The NSA has repeatedly denied that it tracks cellphone location data as part of its broad surveillance efforts. But today The New York Times reports that the agency has secretly tested such bulk data collection — and it's done so on more than one occasion. A pilot program allegedly ran in 2010 and again the following year. These tests involved actual data samples from American wireless customers and were intended "to test the ability" of the NSA's systems to handle the resulting data format, according to the report. The number of US citizens unknowingly involved in the pilot isn't clear, nor has the NSA said whether it still possesses the resulting data.
"That data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes," reads a draft answer written for intelligence director James Clapper ahead of his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. The Times obtained Clapper's written answer in advance of the hearing. The agency ultimately decided against pursuing location tracking further, but Clapper's prepared response offers little else in terms of specifics.
The issue came under renewed scrutiny last week after Senator Ron Wyden asked NSA director General Keith Alexander whether the agency had ever collected such location data in bulk. Alexander denied that the NSA receives cell-site information under the Patriot Act and said the agency "has no current plans to do so." But he added that classified data given to the Senate Intelligence Committee would offer "additional detail" on the matter, raising concerns that the NSA monitors location through some other legal justification. Wireless carriers have the ability to track your every movement, and today's news confirms that the NSA has at least experimented with taking advantage of that.
It appears the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finally cracked down on Silk Road, the underground marketplace where users could buy cocaine, heroin, meth, and more using the virtual currency Bitcoin. Journalist Brian Krebs has just published a purported copy of a complaint filed in the Southern District of New York against Ross Ulbricht, who is alleged to be the mastermind behind the site and the handle Dread Pirate Roberts.
Ulbricht is being charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. The site, which is only accessible through the anonymizing Tor network, has been pulled and replaced with an FBI notice. The Silk Road forums are still operating, suggesting they were hosted on a different server.
The complaint is based on statements made by Christopher Tarbell, an FBI agent who has been tracking Silk Road out of the cybercrime division in New York. Tarbell acknowledges "undercover activity" by himself and other law enforcement agents, something users have suspected for a long time.
Law enforcement officers have made more than 100 purchases on the site
Law enforcement officers have made more than 100 purchases on the site since November of 2011, according to the complaint, and had the drugs shipped to New York for analysis. "Samples of these purchases have been laboratory-tested, and have typically shown high purity levels of the drug the item was advertised to be on Silk Road," Tarbell says.
Silk Road did $1.2 billion worth of business between February of 2011 and July of 2013, the FBI says, earning Dread Pirate Roberts $79.8 million in commissions using current Bitcoin rates. That number is difficult to pin down, however, because Bitcoin's price has fluctuated so much during that time. Silk Road had 957,079 registered users who did 1.2 million transactions between February of 2011 and July of 2013, the FBI says.
The FBI reportedly located the server in "a certain foreign country" on which the Silk Road website was hosted, but does not specify where. It appears from the complaint that the FBI was monitoring Dread Pirate Roberts' private messages through the site.
Dread Pirate Roberts once ordered a murder of a user who was attempting to blackmail him, the complaint alleges. A user named FriendlyChemist wanted $500,00 from Dread Pirate Roberts, or else thousands of Silk Road identities would be published. When quoted a price of $150,000 to $300,000, Dread Pirate Roberts called the price high, saying he had had a hit done "not long ago" for $80,000. Ulbricht was not charged with murder.
Sometimes, truth is indeed more terrifying than fiction. In what could easily make for prime horror film fodder, a renowned photographer has captured stunning images of wildlife calcified by the caustic waters of a deadly Tanzanian lake.
Nick Brandt, well-known for his photography of East Africa's natural landscape, came across Tanzania's Lake Natron during his travels. And as his ensuing photos demonstrate, this isn't any ordinary body of water: the lake is named for a mineral (natron, often referred to as sodium carbonate decahydrate) whose presence gives Lake Natron a remarkably high alkaline content. With a pH that ranges from 9 to 10.5, and water temperatures that can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the lake is so inhospitable that it kills most wildlife that wind up in its depths.
But perhaps not in the way you'd expect. The lake's unique chemical composition calcifies living creatures like birds or bats, yielding impeccably preserved specimens whose washed up bodies remain dotted along the lake's environs. According toThe New Scientist, Brandt stumbled upon the calcified creatures, collected them, and then rearranged their bodies to create his eerie portraits.
Despite its hostile composition, Lake Natron does support some life. The alkaline tilapia species of fish can withstand the lake's harsh conditions, while a species known as Lesser Flamingoes often breed or nest along Lake Natron's less caustic shoreline.
Target and Walmart are fierce competitors in the retail sector, and now they're about to square off for budget-minded wireless customers. Droid-Life reports that Target is preparing to launch its own prepaid wireless service called Brightspot, a direct competitor to Walmart's Straight Talk and other affordable MVNOs. Brightspot will reportedly piggyback on T-Mobile's network (including LTE support), with monthly plans starting at $35. That tier offers unlimited voice and text messages, but no data whatsoever. Smartphone users will want to opt for either the $50 plan (with 1GB of data before throttling kicks in) or $65 option for a higher 4GB data allotment.
Customers will be able to sign up for Brightspot (and refill their chosen plan) both online and in Target's stores starting October 6th, according to the report. And while there are no contracts involved, Target is aiming to hold onto users with financial bonuses. The company will reward customers with a $25 gift card for every six months of service they complete.
BlackBerry's prospects appear to be more dire than ever. Following a layoff of 40 percent of its workforce and details that it would take a $934 million charge because of unsold Z10 phones, BlackBerry has laid out even more troubling news for investors in a filing with the SEC. It's modified one of its previous loss estimates to note that it now expects to lose $400 million throughout its fiscal 2014 and its following quarter, up from the earlier estimate of $100 million. It also acknowledges that its revenue and market share have dropped significantly since the same quarter last year, including in emerging markets where it once saw quick growth.
BlackBerry 7 remains far more successful
The company's new operating system isn't off to the best start either. BlackBerry acknowledges that BB10's adoption rate has been slower than expected, though that may be an understatement: of the 5.9 million phones it sold between June and the end of August, 4.2 million were devices running BlackBerry 7 — its old OS.
BlackBerry seems to be aware of why this is happening. It pins the blame on consumers' growing preference for platforms with "access to the broadest number of applications," namely iOS and Android. It says that low-cost Android devices have been cutting into its hold on emerging markets as well, and that it's also struggling on the higher end with its go-to enterprise customers. BlackBerry notes that many companies previously required that its devices were used, but that those companies are now allowing their employees to use their own smartphone instead. While the company is struggling more than ever, it may now be on the brink of going private through a buyout offer from Fairfax Financial. It expects to hear more from Fairfax by November 4th.
The build quality, crazy-wide touchpad, and high-resolution screen of HP's new Spectre 13 Ultrabook might make it a contender on October 16th, but two days later Dell will ship the new XPS 15. It's the company's new flagship laptop, and depending on your bankroll it can practically have it all: a 3200 x 1800 touchscreen display, a full 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 Haswell processor, game-capable Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of solid state storage, a 13-hour battery, and a surprisingly decent array of ports in a 4.4 pound, 18 mm thin package.
Doing away with DVD
Like its obvious competitor, Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display, Dell's finally done away with the DVD drive, allowing engineers to shave off 5 millimeters of thickness since its 2012 predecessor while cramming in more performance at the same time. And just like Dell's XPS 13 and XPS 12 before it, the new XPS 15 trades the old aluminum band for lighter carbon fiber, magnesium alloy, a thin yet comfy keyboard, and a wedge-shaped design.
It should hopefully add up to a powerful portable machine that — while obviously aping the aforementioned MacBook Pro — offers a few things Apple hasn't yet matched, like a touchscreen display and battery-saving Haswell processors. It's rare to see a laptop manufacturer put all the latest and greatest ideas in a single package, and it certainly felt like a quality computer when we saw it in person recently.
The catch could be price. The new XPS 15 will start at $1,499 on October 18th, but that's just for the base model with a Core i5 processor, a 1080p screen, integrated Intel graphics, hybrid storage, and even a smaller battery. That's already pricy, and it's likely Dell will charge a good bit more to get the specs that set this laptop apart.
The XPS 15 isn't the only laptop that Dell's announcing today. The new $999 XPS 13 adds Haswell processors and a touchscreen to its 1080p display without increasing the thickness of the diminutive laptop even a millimeter. The backflipping XPS 11, which we previewed at Computex, now has a $999 price point and comes standard with a 2560 x 1440 touchscreen. Both will ship in November.
Kia is bringing an all-electric vehicle to the US market for the first time. The company today announced that it will release an EV edition of its Kia Soul sometime in 2014. The electric model is designed to serve as "a natural extension of the Soul’s urban-friendly place in the brand’s lineup," according to a press release issued today. Unfortunately Kia isn't yet revealing any information on the car's range, internals, or available packages; it's not even providing a photo of the EV Soul at this point.
More information will be shared at an upcoming auto show, the company says. But it's promising that you'll be able to distinguish the EV from its gas-powered alternate thanks to "new styling cues" that also improve aerodynamics. Not all heavyweights in the auto industry are keen on EVs. Toyota's chairman recently said, "we do not believe there is a market to accept" all-electric products. He maintains that battery technology still has to improve considerably before EVs will become a logistical replacement for traditional cars.