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Updated: 2 hours 26 min ago

Twitter Reports Progress on Weeding Out Users Advocating Violence

Twitter said that its internal controls were allowing it to weed out accounts being used for "promotion of terrorism" earlier rather than responding to government requests to close them down. U.S. and European governments have been pressuring social media companies including Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet's Google to fight harder against online radicalization, particularly by violent Islamist groups. Twitter said it had removed 299,649 accounts in the first half of this year for the "promotion of terrorism," a 20 percent decline from the previous six months. Three-quarters of those accounts were suspended before posting their first tweet. Less than 1 percent of account suspensions were due to government requests, the company said, while 95 percent were thanks to Twitter's internal efforts to combat extremist content with "proprietary tools," up from 74 percent in the last transparency report. Twitter defines "promotion of terrorism" as actively inciting or promoting violence "associated with internationally recognized terrorist organizations." The vast majority of notices from governments concerned "abusive behavior," which includes violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct and impersonation.

10 Apps Every Foreign Student Should Have on Their Phone

When you’re new to a school or campus, your smartphone will be your new best friend. We want you to succeed in your host country, so here are 10 kinds of apps to help you get started in the U.S. 1. Social Media: You probably already know these apps, and you might be using similar ones in your home country in your own language, like WeChat or Weibo or Telegram. These are the biggies in the U.S.: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.  Talk with friends. Get news. (In a September 2017 poll, 67 percent of Americans said they got at least a portion of their news from social media.) Find a bed to buy or find roommates. Get assignments from the class you missed this morning. These social media apps will be the core of your existence. You'll use Facebook to communicate with various groups, like friends and family, but also social clubs that share a common interest, like the soccer club, university subgroups around housing and socializing, or people who share the same field of study.  Apps like Snapchat are more for close friends. Instagram focuses on photos you share. Twitter limits you to 140 characters per "tweet," or post, so you learn to be brief, to the point and clever. They are a great way to tell your friends and family back home what you are up to.  (Hint: Facebook has nearly 2 billion users around the world, but is banned in China. The photos you post on Snapchat expire after you share them. But don't post anything on any app you will regret later. Google "Anthony Weiner.") 2. Banking: apps around the world are giving people the ability to transfer money or pay bills easily. Here are some popular among American students. Venmo, Google Wallet, Square Cash -- make it easy to send and receive money for free. Millennials who don't like to carry cash use this to split a check, pay someone back, or split that expensive drink tab. (Hint: Almost every bank has a mobile app that allows its customers to access their money, pay bills and make deposits by snapping a picture of a check front and back, so download it onto your phone. No more costly wire transfers.)  3. Ride-sharing: Need a ride? Punch your destination into these apps -- Uber or Lyft -- and it will tell you how close (or far) the nearest ride is to your location and how much it will cost to get where you are going. The app is linked to your bank account, so no money changes hands. They also offer shared or pool rides with others, making the fare cheaper for everybody. (Hint: Rates change based on the time of day and demand. Check both services to see which is offering the better price.)  4. Eating: Don’t want to get off the couch or away from your desk? Order from almost any nearby restaurant, pay online, and wait for a delivery driver to bring it to your front door through Grubhub or UberEats or DoorDash. This is great for students who don’t have a car or the time to go fetch food. Looking for a place to eat or something to do? Yelp is filled with customer reviews and ratings of restaurants and places, from where to eat breakfast to ratings of the Grand Canyon. This is the ultimate people's voice app, and where to find the right place for that first date. (Hint: Sometimes a business will reply to your review and try to make a bad experience right, so be constructive and clever with your criticism.) 5. Texting and Phoning Home: College students like to communicate in groups, which makes GroupMe and Slack common on campus smartphones. And cell phone carriers may charge outrageous fees for international calls. Using these apps for calls or text makes it cost-effective on a student’s tight budget: WhatsApp or GroupMe or Slack. (Hint: The popular WhatsApp is free to use on WiFi and messages are encrypted.) 6. Document sharing: Users can store and share documents from anywhere using their Gmail account and Google Drive. Want to send a paper to a colleague? Google Drive gives students access to documents from their phones. Don’t tell your professor that you left your paper at home: You can pull it up on Google Drive. 7. Mapping: Search directions while driving, walking or on public transportation on Google Maps or Waze. Unfamiliar with your surroundings when you emerge from the subway? These apps will orient you and put you in the right direction. For students with cars, Waze is another global-positioning system (GPS) app that tells the driver/user when traffic, potholes, and even roadkill, wait up ahead. (Hint: Waze users share where police are waiting up ahead.)  8. Translation: This is the sweetest cheat sheet: online translation. Can’t figure out what the professor’s directions are on a class syllabus? Copy the text into Google Translate,and the translation will appear in an instant. (Hint: It’s not perfect, so don’t rely on it literally.) 9. Weather: Though most smartphones come with a weather app, the Weather Channel or WeatherBug or MyRadar or Quakes offer additional information. Watch how near or far a storm -- and its intensity -- is to your location. (Hint: Set the apps to send you a weather or event alert for severe storms, conditions and tremblors.) 10. Finding a job: LinkedIn connects you with the business world and showcases who you are professionally. Post your CV, your employment history and links to examples of your work on your LinkedIn. Students use LinkedIn connections to get internships and jobs after graduation. (Hint: Ask supervisors and professors for recommendations on LinkedIn. They will show at the bottom of your page, and make you look like a superstar.) Did we miss your favorite app in this list? Please share your suggestion in the Comments here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!  

Review: Glitzy iPhone X Aside, iPhone 8 is Fine for Most

The difference between Apple's new iPhone models is a bit like flying first class compared with coach. We envy first class, but coach gets us there without breaking the budget. The iPhone 8 will do just fine for $300 less than the glitzy iPhone X , even though it won't make your friends and colleagues jealous. It's also available much sooner - this Friday - starting at almost $700. The X (read as the numeral 10) won't be out until November.   Still, the iPhone 8 remains a fairly straightforward update of the iPhone 7 , which itself was a fairly straightforward update of the iPhone 6S. Then again, no one expects much different from a coach seat.   What you're not getting   It's hard to talk about the iPhone 8 without comparing it to my 15 minutes with the iPhone X last Tuesday.   The X wowed with a fancy new display that flows to the edges of the phone. The phone is compact, yet features a screen slightly larger than the one on the supersized iPhone 8 Plus. The X also features facial recognition that lets you unlock the phone with a glance; you can also create animated emojis that match your facial expressions.   The 8 has none of that, although it does share other new goodies the X is getting, including wireless charging. The 8 and the X both have faster processors and sensors to enhance graphics in augmented reality, a blending of the virtual and physical worlds, though older iPhones will also run AR apps with a software update Tuesday. Wireless charging   Apple is embraces wireless-charging technology that Android phones have had for years. It's a rare case in which Apple isn't going its own way; instead, it's adopting an existing standard called Qi (pronounced chee). That means the iPhone gets all the technical advancements from the consortium behind Qi _ and can take immediate advantage of a slew of public wireless-charging stations.   It worked perfectly for me while waiting for a connecting flight in Los Angeles - no need to rummage through my backpack for a charging cord.   Apple says the wireless system should charge as quickly as the wall adapter included with iPhones. But I found wireless slower in testing, using a Belkin charger with the same power output as the iPhone charger.   Wireless charging is largely about convenience; it's terrific if you can just drop your phone on a charging pad overnight or during the day at your desk. Apple says it will boost wireless-charging power by 50 percent in coming months, which will speed things up further. But those in a rush should consider a wall charger that comes with the iPad, which will still be even faster.   In a way, wireless charging makes up for Apple's earlier decision to ditch the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, which made people share the Lightning port with both charging cords and wired headphones. You can now charge and use wired headphones at the same time.   Display   Colors on the 8's screen adapt to lighting in the room. It's noticeable in my apartment at night, as artificial lighting tends to be warmer and more yellowish. The screen adapts by making whites more like beige and yellow even yellower. It's softer on the eyes and mimics how light glows on white paper, though it can make images appear less natural. You can turn this feature off.   Resolution isn't as sharp as what the X and many rival Android phones offer. The Plus offers enough pixels for high-definition video at the highest quality, 1080p, while the regular model is comparable to the lesser 720p.   Camera   New color filters produce truer and richer colors without looking fake, while a new flash technique tries to light the foreground and background more evenly. You have to know to look, as the iPhone 7 already had a great camera. Differences in test shots taken while sightseeing in Poland were subtle, but noticeable - more so on the iPhone 8 screen than on last year's Mac.   The iPhone 8 also offers additional video options, including recording of ultra-high definition, or 4K, at 60 frames per second, twice the previous rate. (The phone's display, though, isn't sharp enough for 4K.)   A second lens in the 7 Plus and 8 Plus models lets the camera gauge depth and blur backgrounds in portrait shots, something once limited to full-featured SLR cameras. Samsung adopted that feature in this year's Note 8 .   Coming to the 8 Plus are filters to mimic studio and other lighting conditions. My favorite, stage light, highlights the subject's face and darkens the background. Some of these filters make images look fake - Apple has slapped a "beta" test tag to signal it's not flawless. You can try them out and undo any changes you don't like.   Design   To make wireless charging work, the 8 features a glass back, something last seen in the iPhone 4S in 2011. Aesthetic considerations aside, this gives you another sheet of glass to break.   Apple says custom glass from Corning makes the phone stronger. Even so, consider a service plan and get a case. Wireless charging works with most cases, as long as there's no metal or magnets. I found the phone charged just as fast with the case on.   About the price tag   The iPhone 8 is about $50 more than what the iPhone 7 cost at launch. Samsung has similarly increased the prices of its flagship Galaxy phones, and the S8 still outsold last year's S7. Consumers seem willing to pay.   You do get double the storage - 64 gigabytes - at that price, a value considering that iPhone storage boosts typically cost $100. You'll need that extra storage for video, apps and fancy features such as AR and animated photos.   Nonetheless, I would have preferred the option of a cheaper, lower-storage version. For that, you need an older model , such as the $549 iPhone 7 and the $449 6S. There's also the smaller iPhone SE for $349.

Self-driving Boats Could Launch Before Self-driving Cars

While car manufacturers are racing to get self-driving cars on the road, researchers are well ahead in developing self-driving vessels that could soon start ferrying passengers and cargo in busy ports. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Virtual Reality Therapy to Treat the World's Most Common Vision Problem

Amblyopia or Lazy Eye, as it is called, is a vision problem in which the brain doesn't receive or process signals from the affected eye. It can be caused by any number of physical issues, but the real problem is that it can't be fixed with glasses. But it can be fixed, through therapy, and that therapy is now getting a high tech makeover using VR technology. Kevin Enochs reports

Sources: Google Offers to Display Rival Sites Via Auction

Alphabet unit Google has offered to display rival comparison shopping sites via an auction as part of an EU compliance order following a landmark fine for favoring its own service, four people familiar with the matter said on Monday. The proposal, submitted to the European Commission on August 29 following a record 2.4-billion-euro ($2.87 billion) penalty, would allow competitors to bid for any spot in its shopping section known as Product Listing Ads, the people said. Three years ago, the world's most popular internet search engine made a similar offer in an attempt to settle a long-running investigation by the European Commission and stave off a fine. The offer was ultimately rejected following negative feedback from rivals and discord within the EU executive. Under this earlier proposal, Google had reserved the first two places for its own ads. The new offer would also see Google set a floor price with its own bids minus operating costs. The company has sought feedback from competitors. The offer does not address the issues set out by EU competition regulators, the people said. The Commission had ordered Google to treat rivals and its own service equally. "This is worse than the commitments," one of the people said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Commission was not immediately available for comment. Google did not respond to a request for comment. Google has until September 28 to stop its anti-competitive practices or its parent company Alphabet could be fined up to 5 percent of its average daily worldwide turnover.

Countries Racing to Develop Warfare Robots

With air drones now being a fixture in nearly every army's arsenal, defense industries are hard at work developing ground and underwater robotic vehicles, trying not to fall behind others. Most of the technology has already been developed for industrial robots, and the rapidly expanding self-driving vehicle segment of the automotive industry. VOA’s George Putic looks at the state of warfare robots.

An Eye In the Sky May Help Resolve Hurricane Insurance Claims

The hurricanes that brought howling winds and destructive floods to the Houston area and much of Florida are now swamping insurance companies with a multi-billion dollar wave of claims. Some insurance firms are using aerial photography to gather facts to help settle claims. Aerospace firm Airbus is offering free access to one of the world's largest libraries of satellite images to speed the claims process -- and build its business. As VOA's Jim Randle reports, speed can save money.

New Technology Helps Stranded Refugees in Greece

Stuck in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios with poor internet and little credit, Abrar Hassan, like many others, was unaware that the tech world had been falling all over itself to help him. More importantly, he was unaware of his rights and how best to prepare for the asylum interviews that would determine whether the 19-year-old, who fled a murderous family feud in Pakistan, had a future in Europe. There has been an explosion of digital software applications, hackathons and websites since the refugee crisis filtered into Western public consciousness, with the tech world offering a range of solutions, whether to issues like Hassan’s, navigating the sea or job hunting. Time has revealed the limits of such solutions when applied with little knowledge of the situation on the ground. Some tech tools, however, are bridging the gap. No internet, no problem Hundreds of micro SD memory cards that can be used in mobile phones have been given out in Chios. The memory cards are packed with information to help educate people about crucial details of the asylum process, such as the right to replace an inadequate translator during the asylum interview. “When I came here I didn’t know anything about the Greek asylum system,” said Hassan, who passed his asylum interview and has remained on the island, helping to distribute SD cards to more refugees. “This is the first time things have been clearly explained.” The micro SD cards do not need an internet connection for people to access the text, audio and visual help offered in the Arabic, Farsi and Urdu languages. They are the brainchild of Sharon Silvey, founder of RefuComm, a volunteer group working with refugees.   Silvey said that many tech products are often designed with little awareness of the audience they target. “I’ve met thousands of refugees and I’ve not met one who said that they needed an app — it’s as simple as that. I’m not sure if refugees are involved at all [in development]," she said. Steep learning curve That criticism is partly acknowledged by some of those who have tracked the explosion of tech-focused assistance since fall 2015. Ben Mason of Betterplace Lab, a Berlin-based nonprofit organization focused on what he calls “tech for good,” told VOA that the initial surge provided an “inspiring moment with people wanting to help and some good projects.” “But there was quite a lot of misspent energy on ‘solutionism’ -- the idea you can take a complex social problem and find a simple tech solution," Mason added. To avoid duplication of services, Techfugees — the most prominent tech network to emerge, with more than 15,000 members — called on users to consolidate their efforts and engage more with refugees themselves, many of whom rely on their own online social networks to get advice. Tracking the success of this wave of tech support is difficult. Many projects have genuinely helped, such as Kiron Open Higher Education, which offers refugees access to higher education. In the "fail fast, try again" ethos of the tech industry, meanwhile, other services proved useless or quickly disappeared, and some became notorious. iSea, a highly hyped, award-winning app, was taken offline after it emerged that rather than live satellite images, it showed a single static image of the sea, rendering it useless for its purported role of helping crowdsource rescue operations. Stuck in silos Mason, who recently wrote a report on Germany’s tech response to the refugees crisis, argues that while it had “yet to deliver at scale,” the scene is “maturing,” with a small but emerging number of tech solutions created by refugees themselves. Meghan Benton, a senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, said there have been successes, but for tech to truly impact efforts to help refugees, it will have to be about “a connection to mainstream services -- rather than a parallel world, which serves small pockets, and might die from one week to the next.” Not that such a solution is simple. The ever-shifting nature of the refugee presence in Europe presents its own issues. For example, the U.N.’s refugee agency in Greece told VOA that as refugees moved from camps into urban settings, helping provide internet services would become even more difficult. Meanwhile, the slow adaption of many European states to harnessing this tech talent and enthusiasm — for example, in its slow, bureaucratic funding methods — may, to varying extents, be influenced by the politics of the refugee crisis. A distant prospect Thousands still languish on the islands and face deportation until their asylum interviews are held. When it comes to the asylum process, Greek authorities are perceived as more of an obstacle to the fair treatment of refugees than a partner to work with, RefuComm's Silvey said. For her, the idea of integrating her services remains a distant prospect. Silvey said she would not be discouraged, though, and is now hunting for funds to roll out her idea further, and aims to launch it in Italy. And with a team made up mostly of refugees as volunteers, RefuComm doesn't lack the contact with beneficiaries that has plagued other tech solutions. “Millennials are creating all these high-tech solutions, and then some old grandma comes up with a low-tech solution that works," quips Silvey, 56.

Iceland Experiments with Volcanic Energy

Iceland is often called the land of ice and fire. It has plenty of ice and glaciers, but is also a geothermal hotspot of bubbling hot water cauldrons, geysers and volcanos. Harnessing all that energy is something Icelanders have been doing for generations, but they're about to take that concept one step further. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

World Hunger Swells as Conflict, Climate Change Grow

The United Nations reports world hunger is rising because conflicts and problems related to climate change are multiplying. The report finds about 815 million people globally did not have enough to eat in 2016 — 38 million more than the previous year. The statistics in this report are particularly grim. They show that global hunger is on the rise again after more than a decade of steady decline. The report, a joint product by five leading U.N. agencies warns that malnutrition is threatening the health of and compromising the future of millions of people world-wide. The report says 155 million children under age five suffer from stunting of their bodies and often their brains, thereby dimming prospects for the rest of their lives. It notes 52 million, or eight percent, of the world’s children suffer from wasting or low weight for their height. Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake, says the lives and futures of countless children are blighted because of food insecurity. And those trapped by conflict are most at risk. “Millions of children across northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere; innocent victims of a deadly combination of protracted, irresponsible conflicts; of drought, poverty and climate change… If unreached, a generation of children, more likely someday as adults, will replicate the hatred and conflicts of today,” Lake said. The report also explores the problems of anemia among women and growing obesity among adults and children as well. This study does not present a favorable outlook for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Authors of the report say governments must set goals and invest in measures to bring down malnutrition and to promote healthy eating for healthy living.

Russia’s Digital Weapons Refined on Virtual Battlefield’ of Ukraine

It was a Friday in June, a short workday before a public holiday weekend in Ukraine, and cybersecurity expert Victor Zhora had left the capital, Kyiv, and was in the western city of Lviv when he got the first in a torrent of phone calls from frantic clients. His clients’ networks were being crippled by ransomware known as Petya, a malicious software that locks up infected computers and data. But this ransomware was a variant of an older one and wasn’t designed to extort money — the goal of the virus’ designers was massive disruption to Ukraine’s economy. “I decided not to switch on my computer and just used my phone and iPad as a precaution,” he said. “I didn’t want my laptop to be contaminated by the virus and to lose my data,” he said. ​Virus spread like wildfire The Petya virus, targeting Microsoft Windows-based systems, spread like wildfire across Europe and, to a lesser extent, America, affecting hundreds of large and small firms in France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Britain. While many Europeans saw the June cyberattack as just another wild disruption caused by anonymous hackers, it was identified quickly by experts, like the 37-year-old Zhora, as another targeted assault on Ukraine. Most likely launched by Russia, it was timed to infect the country’s networks on the eve of Ukraine’s Constitution Day. The cyberattack started through a software update for an accounting program that businesses use when working with Ukrainian government agencies, according to the head of Ukraine’s cyberpolice, Sergey Demedyuk. In an interview with VOA in his office in the western suburbs of Kyiv, Demedyuk said, “every year cyberattacks are growing in number.” “Sometimes when targeting a particular government agency or official, they mount complex attacks, first using some disguising action, like a denial-of-service attack, and only then launch their main attack aiming, for example, at capturing data,” he said. Ukraine’s 360-member cyberpolice department was formed in 2015. The department is stretched, having not only to investigate cybercrime by nonstate actors but also, along with a counterpart unit in the state security agency, defend the country from cyberattacks by state actors. Demedyuk admits it is a cat-and-mouse game searching for viruses and Trojan horses that might have been planted months ago. ​Cybersecurity summit On Wednesday, the director of U.S. National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told a cybersecurity summit in Washington that digital threats are mounting against the West, and he singled out Russia as a major culprit, saying Moscow “has clearly assumed an ever more aggressive cyber posture.” “We have not experienced — yet — a catastrophic attack. But I think everyone in this room is aware of the ever-growing threat to our national security,” Coats added. And many of the digital weapons the West may face are being refined and developed by Russian-directed hackers in the cyberwar being waged against Ukraine, said Zhora and other cybersecurity experts. “They are using Ukraine as a testing laboratory,” said Zhora, a director of InfoSafe, a cybersecurity company that advises private sector clients and Ukrainian government agencies. ​Eye of the digital storm Since the 2014 ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has been in the eye of a sustained and systematic digital storm of big and small cyberattacks with practically every sector of the country impacted, including media, finance, transportation, military, politics and energy. Sometimes, the intrusions are highly tailored; other times, more indiscriminate attacks like Petya are launched at Ukraine. Russian officials deny they are waging cyber warfare against Ukraine. Zhora, like many cybersecurity experts, acknowledges it is difficult, if not impossible most times, to trace cyberattacks back to their source. “Attribution is the most difficult thing. When you are dealing with professional hackers it is hard to track and to find real evidence of where it has come from,” he said. “But we know only one country is the likely culprit. We only really have one enemy that wants to destroy Ukrainian democracy and independence,” he added. Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, has been less restrained in pointing the finger of blame. Last December, he said there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in the previous two months alone. Investigations, he said, point to the “direct or indirect involvement of [the] secret services of Russia, which have unleashed a cyberwar against our country.” Ukraine’s cyberpolice head agrees. Demedyuk says his officers have been able to track attacks, especially denial-of-service intrusions, back to “Russian special services, tracking them to their own facilities and their own IP addresses.” But the original source of more complex intrusions, he said, are much harder to identify, with the hackers disguising themselves by using servers around the world, including in Asia and China. ​Digital weapons refined Digital intrusions have seen data deleted and networks crippled with real life consequences. And digital weapons are being refined often with the knowledge gained from each intrusion. Zhora cites as an example of this evolution the difference between two large cyberattacks on the country’s electricity grid, the first in December 2015 and the second at the end of last year, which cut off energy to hundreds of thousands of people for several hours. With the first attack the hackers used malware to gain access to the networks and then shut the system down manually.  “They sent an email and when someone opened it, the payload was downloaded and later it spread across the network and they used the path created for the hackers to get to the administrator’s work station and then in a live session switched off the subsystems overseeing electricity distribution,” he said. But with the 2016 attack no live session was necessary. “They used a malware which opened the doors automatically by decoding specific protocols and there was no human interaction. I think they got a lot of information in the first attack about the utility companies’ networks and they used the knowledge to write the malware for the second intrusion,” he said. Digital threats to US In his speech midweek in Washington, Coats specifically cited possible digital threats to America’s critical infrastructure, including electrical grids and other utilities, saying it is of rising concern.  “It doesn’t take much effort to imagine the consequences of an attack that knocks out power in Boston in February or power in Phoenix in July,” he said. After the second cyberattack on Ukraine’s electrical grid, a group of American government and private sector energy officials was dispatched to Kyiv, where they spent a month exploring what happened, according to Ukrainian officials. One lesson the visitors drew was that it would be much harder in the U.S. to switch the grid back on after an intrusion. The Ukrainians were able to get the electricity moving again by visiting each substation and turning the system on again manually, an option apparently more challenging in the U.S., where grid systems are even more automated. “Virtual attacks are every bit as dangerous as military ones — we are living on a battlefield,” Zhora said.

New Flip Flop Qubits Could Bring Quantum Computers to Consumers

Mention quantum computing and people generally think, "what the heck is quantum computing?" Quantum computing uses the "weirdness" of the quantum world to create a new way for computers to do their thinking. It leaves the fastest computers in the dust. Australian researchers may have taken a huge step toward making quantum computers cheap and accessible. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Key Equifax Executives Leave Company Immediately After Huge Data Breach

Equifax announced late Friday that its chief information officer and chief security officer would leave the company immediately, following the enormous breach of 143 million Americans' personal information. It also presented a litany of security efforts it made after noticing suspicious network traffic in July. The credit data company said that Susan Mauldin, who had been the top security officer, and David Webb, the chief technology officer, are retiring from Equifax. Mauldin, a college music major, had come under media scrutiny for her qualifications in security. Equifax did not say in its statement what retirement packages the executives would receive. Mauldin is being replaced by Russ Ayers, an information technology executive inside Equifax. Webb is being replaced by Mark Rohrwasser, who most recently was in charge of Equifax's international technology operations. Equifax has been under intense public pressure since it disclosed last week that hackers accessed or stole the millions of Social Security numbers, birthdates and other information. On Friday it gave its most detailed timeline of the breach yet, saying it noticed suspicious network traffic on July 29 associated with its U.S. online dispute portal web application. Equifax said it believes the access occurred from May 13 through July 30. Equifax had said earlier that it identified a weakness in an open-source software package called Apache Struts as the technological crack that allowed hackers to heist the data from the massive database maintained primarily for lenders. That disclosure, made late Wednesday, cast the company's damaging security lapse in an even harsher light. The software problem was detected in March and a recommended software patch was released shortly afterward. Equifax said its security officials were "aware of this vulnerability at that time, and took efforts to identify and to patch any vulnerable systems in the company's IT infrastructure." The company said it hired Mandiant, a business often brought in to deal with major technology security problems at big companies, to do a forensic review. Equifax has been castigated for how it has handled the breach, which it did not disclose publicly for weeks after discovering it. Consumers calling the number Equifax set up initially complained of jammed phone lines and uninformed representatives, and initial responses from the website gave inconsistent responses. The company says it has addressed many of those problems. Equifax also said Friday it would continue to allow people to place credit freezes on their reports without a fee through November 21. Originally the company offered fee-free credit freezes for 30 days after the incident. Equifax is facing a myriad of investigations and class-action lawsuits for this breach, including Congressional investigations, queries by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as several state attorneys general. The company's CEO Richard Smith is scheduled to testify in front of Congress in early October. Three Equifax executives -- not the ones who are departing -- sold shares worth a combined $1.8 million just a few days after the company discovered the breach, according to documents filed with securities regulators. Equifax shares have lost a third of their value since it announced the breach.

Text Message Network Connects Offline Farmers in Kenya

When she woke up one morning in February, Catherine Kagendo realized that one of her cows could not stand. "It was lying on its side, had lost its appetite and was breathing heavily," she told Reuters from her farm in Meru, in eastern Kenya. With her husband, she decided to turn to WeFarm, a text-based network of small-scale farmers, for help. Within an hour, their text — "one of my lactating cows cannot stand" — generated a flurry of suggestions, from "feed your cow with minerals rich in calcium" to "make sure the cow shed is clean and well-drained so the animals don't slip." "I realized our cow had milk fever, so gave it calcium-rich feed and it was standing again within hours," Kagendo explained. She is one of many Kenyan small-scale farmers who lack good information — mostly due to a lack of internet access — on how to manage problems from dry spells to diseases, local farm experts say. As a result, such farmers often lose their harvest or animals, they said. But WeFarm, a farmers' network launched in Kenya in 2014 and more recently expanded to Uganda and Peru, allows people to ask a question by text message and receive advice from their peers. The service, whose Scottish co-founder Kenny Ewan describes it as "the internet for people with no internet," is free to use and only requires a mobile phone. Farmers text questions to a local number, and WeFarm transmits the message to users with similar interests in the area, tapping into their knowledge. "We want farmers to get answers to their problems without needing to access the internet, so the information is available to all," said Mwinyi Bwika, head of marketing at WeFarm. Although the platform also exists online, over 95 percent of users choose to use it offline, he said. Information gap Kagendo said that when her animals were ill or her maize crops too dry, she used to have to hire an extension officer to help solve the problem. "But we had to pay a fee ranging from 500 to 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($5-$20), and most of the time the officer didn't even explain their diagnosis," she said. That cut into her family's income and left them no better able to understand the diseases facing their cattle and their crops. "We cannot even afford a smartphone to go online, so finding credible information was near impossible," she said. According to Bwika, small-scale farmers often lack the information they need because of a lack of cash — most live on less than a dollar a day — as well as poor internet connection and low literacy levels. "Ewan realized that farmers living just a few miles from each other were facing the same challenges, but with no way to communicate about them. So, he created a platform to connect them," Bwika said. Joseph Kinyua, another farmer from Meru who grows vegetables, said he spends at least 30 minutes per day using WeFarm. "It's taught me anything from using pest control traps to ensuring that my sprinklers don't put out too much water," he said. "And I know the methods are proven and tested by other farmers." The knowledge has helped improve the quality of the kale he grows, he said, enough that "I can now sell a kilo at the market at 70 shillings [$0.70] compared to 50 [$0.50] previously." Preventing problems While the platform might receive dozens of replies to a question, it only sends out to the user a selection of answers judged correct, Bwika said. But it uses the questions and advice received to help track disease outbreaks or extreme weather spells, and shares those insights with governments and non-governmental organizations, Bwika said. "In doing so, we hope to prevent disease outbreaks and track problems before they occur," he said. Not everyone shares this optimism, however. Mary Nkatha, a farmer from Meru, said she found it hard to implement some of the recommendations she received from WeFarm without the practical guidance of an expert. "If I am told to inject my cow with something, how do I make sure I do it in the right place? And where do I find the equipment?" she asked. Fredrick Ochido, a Kenya-based consultant on dairy farming, also worries that the platform may be entrenching farmers' poor use of technology, rather than helping them keep up with new trends. The WeFarm platform has over 100,000 current users in Kenya, Uganda and Peru, and its operators hopes to reach one million farmers in the next year. They also aim to expand the effort to other countries, including Tanzania.

Perlan II Sets a New Altitude Record for Gliders

High above the mountains in southern Argentina, two pilots recently set a new altitude world record for gliders. They hope the ability of their plane to reach the edge of outer space will turn it into a research platform and inspire young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. VOA's George Putic spoke to the pilots about their experience.

Musk Now Targets October to Unveil Tesla Semi Truck

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the electric carmaker is tentatively scheduled to unveil its planned semi-truck in late October, about a month later than the billionaire had earlier estimated. “Tesla Semi truck unveil & test ride tentatively scheduled for Oct 26th in Hawthorne,” Musk said in a tweet on Wednesday. The entrepreneur has tantalized the trucking industry with the prospect of a battery-powered heavy-duty vehicle that can compete with conventional diesels, which can travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel. Tesla's plans for new electric vehicles including a commercial truck called the Tesla Semi were announced last year and in April Musk said the release of the semi-truck was set for September. Tesla has been making strides in self-driving technology and implementing it in an electric truck could potentially move it forward in a highly competitive area of commercial transport also being pursued by Uber Technologies and Alphabet's Waymo. Reuters reported in August that Tesla was developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that could drive itself and move in “platoons” that followed a lead vehicle, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. Tesla's electric big-rig truck could have a working range of 200 to 300 miles to compete with more conventional diesels, Reuters reported later in August.

US Orders Federal Agencies to Remove Kaspersky Products

U.S. security officials on Wednesday ordered government agencies to get rid of products and services from Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke issued the directive, giving agencies 90 days to comply. "This action is based on the information security risks presented by the use of Kaspersky products on federal information systems," according to a DHS statement. The department said the key concerns were ties "between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies." 'Unacceptable risk' "This is a risk-based decision we need to make," said White House cybersecurity coordinator Robert Joyce, speaking at the Billington CyberSecurity Summit in Washington. "The company must collaborate with the FSB [Russian intelligence], and so, for us in the government, that was an unacceptable risk," Joyce said. The U.S. said it would give Kaspersky an opportunity to address its concerns in writing. Kaspersky has repeatedly denied it helps Russia with espionage efforts. On Tuesday, company founder Eugene Kaspersky took to Twitter to try to calm fears. "Despite geopolitical turbulence we remain committed to American customers," he said. The DHS directive came hours after the top U.S. intelligence official warned that Russia has been ramping up the pace of its operations against the United States. "Russia has clearly assumed an ever more aggressive cyberposture by increasing cyberespionage operations, leaking data stolen from those operations," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said at the cybersecurity summit. 'Echo chamber' Coats did not elaborate on the scope or target of Russia's cyberoperations, but warned that a range of enemies were increasingly seeking to weaponize public opinion. "Adversaries use the internet as an echo chamber in which information, ideas or beliefs get amplified or reinforced through repetition," Coats said. "Their efforts seek to undermine our faith in our institutions or advance violence in the name of identity." The top U.S. intelligence official also said hackers were increasingly targeting the U.S. defense industry. "Such intrusions, even if intended for theft and espionage, could inadvertently cause serious if not catastrophic damage, where an adversary looking for small-scale destructive cyberaction against the United Sates could miscalculate," Coats said. In an unclassified report released in January, top U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin waged an unprecedented "influence campaign" in an effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of then-candidate Donald Trump. As president, Trump has repeatedly questioned those assessments, suggesting at times it was unclear whether Russia was responsible. Just last week, however, an internal Facebook investigation found 470 Russian-linked accounts paid for thousands of political ads to appear during last year's presidential campaign. Facebook said further investigation revealed another 2,200 ads "might have originated in Russia,'' including ads purchased by accounts with IP addresses in the United States but set to Russian in the language preferences. Other manipulation Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a security conference last week that the revelations might just be "the tip of the iceberg," and that Russia also most likely had manipulated messages via other social media platforms, such as Twitter. Despite the doubts raised by Trump and some of his supporters, former officials have remained steadfast that Russia was responsible for hacking into  Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to discredit Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. "We personally reviewed every single piece of intelligence that went into that ICA [intelligence community assessment] and spent hours and hours talking to the analysts," said former National Security Agency Deputy Director Richard Ledgett. "I am as certain of this as I'm as certain as gravity: that the Russian government directed this activity with the intent to influence the election," he said.

iPhone X Shipping Delay May Dampen Apple's Holiday Quarter

Apple Inc's highly anticipated iPhone X features a slew of innovations but delayed availability could hurt holiday-quarter sales. The much-hyped event on Tuesday unveiled three new phones, an advanced watch that can take calls and a new Apple TV, but die-hard fans will not be able to get their hands on the iPhone X until Nov. 3 - much later than iPhone 8's shipping date of Sept. 22. The delay in shipping of the iPhone X could hurt Apple's seasonally-strong fiscal first quarter as orders get pushed to the following quarter. The phone will start at $999 for the 64 GB version. Apple's shares were down 1 percent at $159.35 in early trading on Wednesday. Although decked out with facial recognition technology, front and back glass, a 5.8-inch edge to edge display, wireless charging and animated emojis, some analysts said the delay tempers near-term sales and a few adjusted their estimates. "Given one month less sales for the iPhone X during the December quarter, we have reduced our December quarter iPhone sales estimates from 84 million to 79 million units," Canaccord Genuity analysts wrote in a client note. The company's iPhone 8 and 8 Plus did not veer far away from previous models, sporting modest new features such as a glass body, wireless charging, better camera and a faster processor. This could lead consumers to wait for the iPhone X. "None of the features in the version 8 product will likely accelerate demand," Mizuho analysts wrote in a note. Apple typically launches new iPhones in September and a big jump in sales usually follows in the holiday quarter, as users tend to upgrade devices when new phones sport significant design changes. Apple last saw a significant uptick in sales with the introduction of iPhone 6 in 2015. While the delay of the iPhone X could hurt near-term sales, analysts still think Apple's loyal and hungry fans would lap up the new phone, boosting sales for fiscal 2018. Brokerage UBS said it continues to estimate 246 million phones in fiscal 2018 will be up 15 percent. Apple, which is trying to energize sales in China, could hit a wall selling the pricey new phones there. The 8 and 8 plus start at $699 and the iPhone X is Apple's most expensive phone. The high price of the iPhone X may not affect sales in the United States, where telecom carriers subsidize phone ownership, but it might dent sales in China and India. But even with the lack of major surprises, Apple's phones are still expected to sell well. "It will still sell in enormous volumes because Apple has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to persuade consumers to shift their overall spending to place a greater share of their disposable income towards a smartphone purchase," IHS Markit analyst wrote in a note.  

Self-Driving Boats: The Next Tech Transportation Race

Self-driving cars may not hit the road in earnest for many years - but autonomous boats could be just around the pier. Spurred in part by the car industry’s race to build driverless vehicles, marine innovators are building automated ferry boats for Amsterdam canals, cargo ships that can steer themselves through Norwegian fjords and remote-controlled ships to carry containers across the Atlantic and Pacific. The first such autonomous ships could be in operation within three years. One experimental workboat spent this summer dodging tall ships and tankers in Boston Harbor, outfitted with sensors and self-navigating software and emblazoned with the words “UNMANNED VESSEL” across its aluminum hull. “We’re in full autonomy now,” said Jeff Gawrys, a marine technician for Boston startup Sea Machines Robotics, sitting at the helm as the boat floated through a harbor channel. “Roger that,” said computer scientist Mohamed Saad Ibn Seddik, as he helped to guide the ship from his laptop on a nearby dock. The boat still needs human oversight. But some of the world’s biggest maritime firms have committed to designing ships that won’t need any captains or crews — at least not on board. Distracted seafaring The ocean is “a wide open space,” said Sea Machines CEO Michael Johnson. Based out of an East Boston shipyard once used to build powerful wooden clippers, the cutting-edge sailing vessels of the 19th century, his company is hoping to spark a new era of commercial marine innovation that could surpass the development of self-driving cars and trucks. The startup has signed a deal with an undisclosed company to install the “world’s first autonomy system on a commercial containership,” Johnson said this week. It will be remotely-controlled from land as it travels the North Atlantic. He also plans to sell the technology to companies doing oil spill cleanups and other difficult work on the water, aiming to assist maritime crews, not replace them. Johnson, a marine engineer whose previous job took him to the Italian coast to help salvage the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia, said that deadly 2012 capsizing and other marine disasters have convinced him that “we’re relying too much on old-world technology.” “Humans get distracted, humans get tired,” he said. Global race Militaries have been working on unmanned vessels for decades. But a lot of commercial experimentation is happening in the centuries-old seaports of Scandinavia, where Rolls-Royce demonstrated a remote-controlled tugboat in Copenhagen this year. Government-sanctioned testing areas have been established in Norway’s Trondheim Fjord and along Finland’s western coast. In Norway, fertilizer company Yara International is working with engineering firm Kongsberg Maritime on a project to replace big-rig trucks with an electric-powered ship connecting three nearby ports. The pilot ship is scheduled to launch next year, shift to remote control in 2019 and go fully autonomous by 2020. “It would remove a lot of trucks from the roads in these small communities,” said Kongsberg CEO Geir Haoy. Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen K.K. — operator of the cargo ship that slammed into a U.S. Navy destroyer in a deadly June collision — plans to test its first remote-controlled vessel in 2019, part of a wider Japanese effort to deploy hundreds of autonomous container ships by 2025. A Chinese alliance has set a goal of launching its first self-navigating cargo ship in 2021. Cars vs. Boats The key principles of self-driving cars and boats are similar. Both scan their surroundings using a variety of sensors, feed the information into an artificial intelligence system and output driving instructions to the vehicle. But boat navigation could be much easier than car navigation, said Carlo Ratti, an MIT professor working with Dutch universities to launch self-navigating vessels in Amsterdam next year. The city’s canals, for instance, have no pedestrians or bikers cluttering the way, and are subject to strict speed limits. Ratti’s project is also looking at ways small vessels could coordinate with each other in “swarms.” They could, for instance, start as a fleet of passenger or delivery boats, then transform into an on-demand floating bridge to accommodate a surge of pedestrians. Since many boats already have electronic controls, “it would be easy to make them self-navigating by simply adding a small suite of sensors and AI,” Ratti said. Armchair captains Researchers have already begun to design merchant ships that will be made more efficient because they don’t need room for seamen to sleep and eat. But in the near future, most of these ships will be only partly autonomous. Armchair captains in a remote operation center could be monitoring several ships at a time, sitting in a room with 360-degree virtual reality views. When the vessels are on the open seas, they might not need humans to make decisions. It’s just the latest step in what has been a gradual automation of maritime tasks. “If you go back 150 years, you had more than 200 people on a cargo vessel. Now you have between 10 and 20,” said Oskar Levander, vice president of innovation for Rolls-Royce’s marine business. Changing rules of the sea There are still some major challenges ahead. Uncrewed vessels might be more vulnerable to piracy or even outright theft via remote hacking of a ship’s control systems. Some autonomous vessels might win public trust faster than others; unmanned container ships filled with bananas might not raise the same concerns as oil tankers plying the waters near big cities or protected wilderness. A decades-old international maritime safety treaty also requires that “all ships shall be sufficiently and efficiently manned.” But The International Maritime Organization, which regulates shipping, has begun a 2-year review of the safety, security and environmental implications of autonomous ships.    

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