Astronaut in Reddit chat from space

Chris HadfieldMr Hadfield will be the first Canadian to command the International Space Station

Canadian Chris Hadfield, who will assume command of the International Space Station (ISS) in March, took part in a web chat on Sunday – from space.

He appeared on social news site Reddit, typing on his laptop some 220 miles (354 km) above Earth during the site’s “ask me anything” (AMA) session.

Last year, US President Barack Obama also participated in an AMA chat.

To “beam” his answers down, Mr Hadfield logged on via a satellite relay to a server in Houston, Texas.

“The purpose of all of this is to connect with you and allow you to experience a bit more directly what life is like living aboard an orbiting research vessel,” wrote the astronaut.

The discussion drew more than 2,000 questions and comments.

The astronaut replied to queries ranging from describing the smell of space, saying that “airlock smells like ozone, or gunpowder”, to clarifying how astronauts shaved when bits of hair floated all around them: “just wipe it on a cloth every time”.

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I feel like an adapted ape swinging through the jungle canopy… until I miss a handrail and crash into the wall”

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Chris Hadfield

He said that he did not see the meteor that fell in Russia because the station was on the other side of the Earth, but added that small meteorites “burn up between ISS and the Earth every day.

“I watched a large meteorite burn up between me and Australia, and to think of that hypersonic dumb lump of rock randomly hurtling into us instead sent a shiver up my back,” he wrote.

He said that sometimes occupants of the ISS “hear pings as tiny rocks hit our spaceship, and also the creaks and snaps of expanding metal as we go in and out of sunlight. The solar panels are full of tiny holes from the micro-meteorites.”

‘Good moustache’

One of the questions was about weightlessness, and Mr Hadfield wrote: “Simply fly – to push off and glide magically to the other end of the station. It makes me smile to myself, every time.

“I’m still learning! But sometimes now, I am graceful. I feel like an adapted ape swinging through the jungle canopy… until I miss a handrail and crash into the wall.”

He also said that the launch – “all that power and acceleration” – was the biggest danger astronauts faced.

HadfieldChris Hadfield became the first Canadian to walk in space during his 2001 shuttle mission

“Once we survive that, it’s just a steady threat of radiation, meteorite impacts, and vehicle system failure like fire or ammonia breakthrough,” he posted.

Describing how the world looked from space, Mr Hadfield wrote: “It looks like a carpet of countless tiny perfect unblinking lights in endless velvet, with the Milky Way as a glowing area of paler texture.”

He said that Australia looked “coolest”, calling the colours and textures of the Outback “severely artistic”.

“The most beautiful to me are the Bahamas, the vast glowing reefs of every shade of blue that exists,” he added.

Finally, when a Redditor asked: “If you discover intelligent life, who should play you in the movie?” Mr Hadfield said: “Someone with a good moustache.”

Canadian commander

The current space mission is Chris Hadfield’s third trip into orbit. His first was 17 years ago when he flew on the space shuttle Atlantis to the Mir space station.

In March, Mr Hadfield will become the second-ever non-Russian and non-American to lead an ISS crew. A European Space Agency astronaut, the Belgian Frank De Winne, was in command of the station in 2009.

Mr Hadfield was the first Canadian to undertake a spacewalk; and he was the first and only Canadian to board the Russian Mir space station.

He was also the first Canadian to operate his country’s major contribution to the space shuttle – its robotic arm, or “Canadarm”.

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Google ‘seeks to cut piracy funds’

Google employee at deskGoogle is under pressure to combat the spread of illegal websites

Google executives are in talks with Visa, Paypal and Mastercard to block illegal websites from receiving funding, the Telegraph has reported.

It might mean Google could avoid making more alterations to its search results to disadvantage illegal sites, the report said.

Google has in the past urged authorities to “follow the money” when it comes to stamping out piracy sites.

Similar blocking measures were put in place against the Wikileaks website.

The site, which published large amounts of classified documents, had its funding sources strangled by firms who were reportedly pressured by US authorities into taking action.

The move was controversial, with many calling for boycotts of the companies involved.

Choking business

Google would not comment directly on reports it was having discussions with payment companies, but it stressed it had stepped up its efforts on piracy in the past year.

“Google has never worked harder to tackle piracy online,” the company said in a statement.

“Last month alone we removed over 14 million links to pirated material.

“There are also huge and growing opportunities for content creators to make money online, which is why so many have signed up to Google Play and as YouTube partners.”

In a report published last year, Google – in partnership with PRS for Music – outlined ways to choke businesses making money from illegal activity.

The report analysed various funding models in use by sites offering music downloads, movie streaming and other unlicensed content.

Google’s concluded that it was important to tackle the piracy problem at source by targeted companies which advertise on piracy sites – as well as payment providers that enable the collection of subscription money.

However, Google has been forced to demote certain websites in its search rankings, amid criticism it was easier to find piracy sites over legitimate music stores.

Paypal has yet to respond to the reports, while Visa told the BBC it would not be making a comment.

In a statement, Mastercard said: “Mastercard takes online safety and security seriously.

“We work closely with our part­ners to ensure the best possible experience when using elec­tronic payments.”

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China military unit ‘behind hacking’

Twelve-storey building in Pudong, Shanghai

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The BBC’s John Sudworth was detained while filming the reported hub of the hacking operation

A secretive branch of China’s military is most likely one of the world’s “most prolific cyber espionage groups”, a US cyber security firm has said.

Mandiant said Unit 61398 was believed to have “systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data” from at least 141 organisations around the world.

It traced the attacks to the doorstep of a non-descript building in Shanghai used by the unit.

China denied hacking and questioned the validity of Mandiant’s report.

‘Extensive cyber espionage’

“Hacking attacks are transnational and anonymous,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

“Determining their origins are extremely difficult. We don’t know how the evidence in this so-called report can be tenable.

“Arbitrary criticism based on rudimentary data is irresponsible, unprofessional and not helpful in resolving the issue.”


Mr Hong added that Beijing “firmly opposes hacking”, has taken steps to prevent it and is also a victim of cyber attacks.

In an indication of the military sensitivity around the Shanghai site, the BBC’s John Sudworth and his camera crew were briefly detained by soldiers when they went to film the facility. They were only released once they had handed over their footage.

In its unusually detailed report, US-based computer security company Mandiant said it had investigated hundreds of data breaches since 2004, most of which it attributed to what it termed “Advanced Persistent Threat” actors.

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The scale of the Chinese hacking alleged by the computer security firm Mandiant is striking. Until now the bulk of this hacking has been a digital version of old-fashioned industrial espionage – stealing designs and company secrets.

But there is a more sinister side to this activity as well. Chinese hackers are alleged to have a growing interest in gaining access to key parts of the US infrastructure – gas lines, power grids and waterworks. President Barack Obama himself warned during his recent State of the Union address that the nature of the cyber threat was changing.

Gaining access to critical systems is the key. Once inside the digital perimeter – especially if the intrusion is not identified, there is the possibility of causing real physical damage to the infrastructure that the computers control.

The details it had uncovered, it said, “convince us that the groups conducting these activities are based primarily in China and that the Chinese government is aware of them”.

The most prolific of these actors is APT1, which Mandiant says is “a single organisation of operators that has conducted a cyber espionage campaign against a broad range of victims since at least 2006″.

“From our observations, it is one of the most prolific cyber espionage groups in terms of the sheer quantity of information stolen,” it said, adding that it was “likely government-sponsored and one of the most persistent of China’s cyber threat actors”.

“We believe that APT1 is able to wage such a long-running and extensive cyber espionage campaign in large part because it receives direct government support,” said Mandiant.

The firm said it had traced the hacking activities of APT1 to the site of 12-storey building in the Pudong area of Shanghai. It said that Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army “is also located in precisely the same area” and that the actors had similar “missions, capabilities and resources”.

Among the findings about APT1 in the report were that it:

  • is staffed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of proficient English speakers with advanced computer security and networking skills
  • has hacked into 141 companies across 20 industries, 87% based in English-speaking countries, and is able to steal from dozens of networks simultaneously
  • has stolen hundreds of terabytes of information including blueprints, business plans, pricing documents, user credentials, emails and contact lists
  • stayed inside hacked networks for an average of 356 days, with the longest lasting 1,764 days
  • targeted industries identified by China as strategically important under its Five Year Plan for economic growth


Unit 61398 has for some time been suspected by the US of being central to China’s cyber espionage programme, the New York Times reports.


Mandiant admitted there could be one alternative explanation for its findings: that “a secret, resourced organisation full of mainland Chinese speakers with direct access to Shanghai-based telecommunications infrastructure is engaged in a multi-year, enterprise scale computer espionage campaign right outside of Unit 61398′s gates, performing tasks similar to Unit 61398′s known mission”.

Several governments, foreign companies and organisations have said in the past they suspect China of carrying out extensive cyber espionage over periods of several years.

Last month, the New York Times said its systems had been infiltrated over a period of four months, after it wrote a report on the alleged wealth of China’s outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao.

Mandiant, which the paper hired to investigate, traced the hack to China. However, the paper said its breach had been attributed to a different group. The Wall Street Journal also reported a China-based hack.

At the time, China’s foreign ministry dismissed the New York Times accusations as “groundless”, saying that to “conclude without hard evidence that China participated in such hacking attacks is totally irresponsible”.

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Facebook search limited for teens

Facebook under a magnifying glassFacebook says account activity by teenagers which could identify their location will be invisible to adults

The Facebook activity of users aged between 13 and 17 would have limited visibility in the network’s new “social graph” search facility, the firm said.

Posts which could identify the teens’ age or location should only appear in searches by friends and “friends of friends” in the same age group.

If an adult were to search for “single females aged 17″, for example, no results would appear, it explained.

Facebook said it was strict about its rules regarding age.

If it had cause for concern about the age of any user – whether it thought they might be older or younger than claimed – it said it would suspend the suspect account and only reactivate it after seeing official government identification.

It added that anyone aged under-17 could not share any of their posts publicly, and all location services were switched off by default, although they could be activated if the young person chose.

Search test

Facebook launched a test version of its search feature in January and it is currently limited to select users who have set English (US) as their language.

The move has raised privacy concerns. One blog has gained fame for showing how the tool can be used to carry out potentially embarrassing searches, such as “current employees of Tesco who like horses”.

At the search facility’s launch event the social network said it would take steps to protect its youngest users. The new restrictions – announced in a blog post – aim to fulfil this promise.

In a social graph test carried out on the BBC’s behalf, an adult searched for a specific school. The results only brought up accounts which appeared to belong to adults who had once attended, and over-17s who were still pupils.

Mark Little, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, told the BBC at the time that he was “underwhelmed” by the search facility but could see commercial potential in it.

“I think it’s going to help drive connections within the network between individuals and between companies and pages,” he said.

“If you are increasing connections between friends and pages you are effectively increasing the reach of advertisers.”

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Google sues BT in patent battle

BT TowerGoogle has accused BT of aiding “patent trolls” in legal cases

Google is suing BT, claiming the British telecoms group has infringed a number of its technologies.

The search giant has launched a series of legal actions against the London-based firm in California, claiming four of its patents have been violated, and has also filed a separate case in the UK.

BT had been expecting such action after it launched its own case against Google in 2011.

That dispute has yet to be resolved.

“We have always seen litigation as a last resort, and we work hard to avoid lawsuits,” said a spokeswoman for Google.

“But BT has brought several meritless patent claims against Google and our customers – and they’ve also been arming patent trolls.”

The term “patent troll” describes firms that acquire patents so that they can later extract settlements from companies on infringement claims.

In 2012, New Jersey-based intellectual property owner Suffolk Technologies sued Google and US internet service provider AOL over two patents it had acquired from BT.

In addition, Steelhead Licensing – another firm which owns patents but does not produce products of its own – has filed a case against 14 handset makers and mobile networks, including Google’s Motorola unit, claiming infringement of a wireless technology which used to be owned by BT.

A spokesman for the British firm said it did not comment on pending litigation.

Google first

Google has struck back with claims that BT has infringed a method to allow PCs to use an internet-based telephone system based on a patent originally filed by Fujitsu.

And it says BT failed to license a system used to let computer servers prioritise data – an IBM invention now owned by the search firm.

Patent consultant Florian Mueller said this was the first clear case of Google suing another company over its patents.

Previous cases involving Motorola were filed ahead of Google buying the Razr handset maker.

BT and Google are next set to meet in court in Delaware in July for a mediation hearing about the 2011 case.

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Valve opens Linux video game store

Half-Life screenshotThe original Half Life game has been converted to run on Linux

Software firm Valve has launched a Linux version of its Steam game store.

The games made available via the online Steam store are playable on the Ubuntu version of the Linux open-source operating system.

Through the store, Ubuntu users can get at almost 60 games including popular titles such as CounterStrike and Team Fortress 2.

The launch comes as Valve lays off about 10% of its staff including some who were working on hardware projects.

Open-source software gives users access to all its underlying programming code and stands in contrast to closed or proprietary software which locks such information away,

No discussion

Players can get access to the Steam store using an add-on application available via the Ubuntu software centre.

As well as games made by Valve, the Linux version of Steam also sells titles made by other companies.

They include Amnesia, FTL, Serious Sam 3 and World of Goo.

As it opened the Linux store, Valve also cut the prices of the PC and Mac versions of games available to Ubuntu users by up to 75%. The sale will run until 21 February.

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We’re not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn’t working here”

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Valve boss Gabe Newell

David Pitkin, who works for Ubuntu developer Canonical, said he now expected “a growing number of game developers to include Ubuntu among their target platforms”.

Currently, few game makers produce a version that can run on Linux or other open-source operating systems.

While almost 60 titles are available on Steam, the store sells more than 2,000 games that run on Windows.

The launch is important for Valve because Linux is expected to be the operating system for the console it is developing to allow Steam games to be played on TVs.

As the curtain was being lifted on the Linux store, Valve sacked about 30 members of staff including high-profile developer Jeri Ellsworth who was reportedly working on the hardware behind the company’s console.

Valve boss Gabe Newell took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the lay-offs to curb speculation about what they would mean for the company’s many projects.

He said the sackings did not mean it was cancelling any projects or changing its priorities.

“We’re not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn’t working here,” he said.

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Chubby Checker sues over penis app

Chubby CheckerChubby Checker celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Twist in 2010

Rock’n'roll singer Chubby Checker is suing HP over an app that used his name as a euphemism for penis size.

The Chubby Checker app – which appeared on websites for Palm OS devices – claimed to guess the intimate measurement based on shoe size.

Lawyers acting for the singer are seeking $500m (£323m) in compensation, saying the app has done “irreparable damage” to his reputation.

HP said it removed the app as soon as it received a complaint from lawyers.

Lawyers for the 71-year-old singer – real name Ernest Evans – filed a “cease and desist” order against HP and its subsidiary Palm in September 2012, soon after the app became available.

Now they have launched a trademark infringement case against the two tech firms.

Chart topper

“He’s hurt,” his lawyer Willie Gary told Associated Press.

“He worked hard to build his name and reputation over the years.

“We cannot sit idly and watch as technology giants, or anyone else, exploits the name or likeness of an innocent person with the goal of making millions of dollars.”

The app had used his client’s name and trademark without permission, said Mr Gary,

In a statement, an HP spokesman said: “The application was removed in September 2012 and is no longer on any Palm or HP-hosted website.”

The German firm behind the offending program, Magic Apps, is no longer selling the software.

It is not clear how many copies it sold before HP and Palm but WebOSNation, which monitors the use of Palm smartphones, estimates it was downloaded only 84 times before it was pulled.

Chubby Checker is best known for his song The Twist which topped the US singles chart in both 1960 and 1962.

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Blue Peter honours Apple’s Jony Ive

Blue Peter Presenter Barney Harwood and Sir Jonathan Ive

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Watch presenter Barney Harwood present Sir Jonathan with the gold badge

The BBC’s Blue Peter programme has honoured Apple’s design chief Sir Jonathan Ive with its highest accolade – the gold Blue Peter badge.

The British executive helped create the iMac and iPhone and, in October, took responsibility for the look and feel of the firm’s software user interfaces.

Blue Peter said he was an “inspiration to children around the world”.

He will appear in a gadget-themed special broadcast on Saturday, offering advice to the viewers.

In the pre-filmed segment he reviewed designs sent in by children and recalled how he had enjoyed watching one of Blue Peter’s past presenters reuse a detergent bottle to create a paintbrush holder.

“I loved the way there was just products that you thought were no longer useful, but reusing them,” he said. “It was fantastic.”

Blue Peter has only presented about 1,000 gold badges in its history,

Other recipients include footballer David Beckham and author JK Rowling.

Sir Jonathan, known as Jony, described the news as “absolutely incredible”.

He also presented the show with his own version of the Blue Peter badge made out of solid aluminium, manufactured by Apple’s equipment, using the programme’s catchphrase: “Here’s one that we made earlier”.

The award adds to a series of honours.

In May, Sir Jonathan was knighted at Buckingham Palace for his services to design and enterprise.

In September, he brought his entire design team to London to celebrate winning the best brand and design studio of the previous 50 years prize at the Design and Art Direction (DAD) awards.

App redesign?

October’s management shake-up at Apple means a lot is now riding on his shoulders.

After the firm’s previous iOS software chief was ousted, it was announced Sir Jonathan would provide “leadership and direction for human interface across the company” in addition to being its industrial design boss.

There had been criticism that the firm’s iOS operating system – which powers its iPhones and iPads – was in need of an overhaul to help it fend off competition from Google’s Android and other rivals.

According to new figures from research firm IDC, 159.8 million Android-powered smartphones were shipped worldwide between October and December 2012, marking an 88% year-on-year gain.

By contrast, IDC suggests that 47.8 million iPhone were shipped over the same period – an annual gain of 29.2%.

In its analysis of the data, the consultancy said “what stands out is how iOS’s year-over-year growth has slowed compared to the overall market”.

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents.

This might see an end, for instance, to it showing stitched leather borders and torn paper in its Calendar app and lined yellow legal paper in its Notes product.

Sir Jonathan’s hardware designs have been praised for having a more minimalist approach.

However, it is unclear whether he will have had enough time in his new post to make such changes to Apple’s next iOS and Mac OS X system revisions which are expected later this year.

Blue Peter’s gadget special will be broadcast in the UK on the CBBC channel at 10:00 GMT on Saturday 16 February.

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Facebook ‘targeted by hackers’

Facebook logoFacebook has one billion active users worldwide

Facebook has revealed it was the target of a “sophisticated attack” by hackers last month, but found no evidence any user data had been compromised.

The US-based social network said that the attack occurred when employees visited a mobile developer website “that was compromised”.

Facebook said in a blog post that it was not the only company to have been attacked in this way.

More than one billion people use Facebook worldwide.

“Last month, Facebook security discovered that our systems had been targeted in a sophisticated attack,” the California-based company said.

“The attack occurred when a handful of employees visited a mobile developer website that was compromised.”

Malware was downloaded on to its employees’ laptops, the firm said, adding: “As soon as we discovered the presence of the malware, we remediated all infected machines, informed law enforcement, and began a significant investigation that continues to this day.”

“We have no evidence that Facebook user data was compromised in this attack,” Facebook said in its blog post.

The firm went on to say that it was “not alone in this attack”.

“It is clear that others were attacked and infiltrated recently as well. As one of the first companies to discover this malware, we immediately took steps to start sharing details about the infiltration with the other companies and entities that were affected,” Facebook said.

This is the latest attack by apparently sophisticated hackers targeting high-profile sites.

Twitter said earlier this month that the theft of 250,000 users’ passwords, as well as usernames, emails and other data, was “not the work of amateurs”.

The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have all accused China of “persistently” hacking into their security systems – accusations China denies.

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Police hold 11 over ransomware scam

Europol cyber crime teamThousands of machines had been infected, Europol said

A complex cybercrime network spreading ransomware designed to extort money has been shut down, police have said.

Spanish authorities, working with the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, arrested 11 people, from Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Software planted on targeted machines accused the user of having viewed illegal content, such as images showing child sex abuse, Europol said.

It then told the user to pay a “fine” before continuing to use the machine.

A Europol statement said: “By dressing the ransomware up to look as if it comes from a law enforcement agency, cybercriminals convince the victim to pay the ‘fine’ of 100 euros [$130; £85] through two types of payment gateways – virtual and anonymous – as a penalty for the alleged offence.

“The criminals then go on to steal data and information from the victim’s computer.

“Since the virus was detected in May 2011, there have been more than 1,200 reported cases just in Spain, and the number of victims could be much higher.”

‘One million euros’

Investigators from Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre – which launched last month – said the network had infected “tens of thousands” of computers worldwide.

Estimated profits had been in the range of one million euros per year, the statement said. And the virus had been first discovered in May 2011.

The gang had been receiving the money in a variety of ways – including using virtual currency such as Bitcoin, Europol said.

They were also alleged to have used cash machines in Spain to withdraw money with compromised credit cards – one of which had been used to take out 26,000 euros prior to the suspects’ arrest.

Europol believe the head of the operation was a 27-year-old Russian man who had been in charge of the “creation, development and international distribution of the various versions of the malware”.

“He was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and is awaiting extradition to Spain,” the statement said.

Six Russians, two Ukrainians and two Georgians were also arrested.

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