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Facebook Lite App for iOS Launched, Now Available for Users in Turkey

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Photo Credit: App Store

Facebook Lite for iOS app is just 16.3MB in size

Social media giant Facebook launched the ‘Lite’ version of its app for Android users in 2015. The Facebook Lite app was made keeping in mind developing markets with spotty connections and limited data usage. The Facebook Lite app is smaller in size, uses less data than the main Facebook app, and runs faster in regions with spotty connections. Now, after three years, Facebook has launched the Facebook Lite app for iOS users as well, however the app is only available to download in Turkey for now.

Business Insider was tipped off about this development by app analytics firm Sensor Tower, and the app seems to be listed only in Turkey for now. The app’s size is listed to be just 16.3MB but it should vary a bit depending upon region, and requires iOS 9 and above for compatibility. Now that the app is listed for Turkey users, Facebook should roll it out for other regions soon.

Facebook Lite uses less than one-half of a megabyte of data to limit data usage and rates for those in emerging markets, and claims to run smoothly even on age-old 2G connections. While it still supports Facebook’s News Feed, status updates, notifications and photos, it does not support videos and advanced location services. This app was intended to be Android-only for developing regions, though it was recently launched for developed markets, including the US due to popular demand. And now, the reach has been expanded even more with it now available on the App Store as well.

The Facebook Lite app reached the 100 million monthly active users milestone in March 2016, and managed to clock in 200 million milestone by February last year.

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Biz & IT

Pipeline attacker Darkside suddenly goes dark—here’s what we know

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Darkside—the ransomware group that disrupted gasoline distribution across a wide swath of the US this week—has gone dark, leaving it unclear if the group is ceasing, suspending, or altering its operations or is simply orchestrating an exit scam.

On Thursday, all eight of the dark web sites Darkside used to communicate with the public went down, and they remain down as of publication time. Overnight, a post attributed to Darkside claimed, without providing any evidence, that the group’s website and content distribution infrastructure had been seized by law enforcement, along with the cryptocurrency it had received from victims.

The dog ate our funds

“At the moment, these servers cannot be accessed via SSH, and the hosting panels have been blocked,” the post stated, according to a translation of the Russian-language post published Friday by security firm Intel471. “The hosting support service doesn’t provide any information except ‘at the request of law enforcement authorities.’ In addition, a couple of hours after the seizure, funds from the payment server (belonging to us and our clients) were withdrawn to an unknown account.”

If true, the seizures would represent a big coup for law enforcement. According to newly released figures from cryptocurrency tracking firm Chainalysis, Darkside netted at least $60 million in its first seven months, with $46 million of it coming in the first three months of this year.

Identifying a Tor hidden service would also be a huge score, since it likely would mean that either the group made a major configuration error in setting the service up or law enforcement knows of a serious vulnerability in the way the dark web works. (Intel471 analysts say that some of Darkside’s infrastructure is public-facing—meaning the regular Internet—so malware can connect to it.)

But so far, there’s no evidence to publicly corroborate these extraordinary claims. Typically, when law enforcement from the US and Western European countries seize a website, they post a notice on the site’s front page that discloses the seizure. Below is an example of what people saw after trying to visit the site for the Netwalker group after the site was taken down:

So far, none of the Darkside sites display such a notice. Instead, most of them time out or show blank screens.

What’s even more doubtful is the claim that the group’s considerable cryptocurrency holdings have been taken. People who are experienced in using digital currency know not to store it in “hot wallets,” which are digital vaults connected to the Internet. Because hot wallets contain the private keys needed to transfer funds to new accounts, they’re vulnerable to hacks and the types of seizures claimed in the post.

For law enforcement to confiscate the digital currency, Darkside operators likely would have had to store it in a hot wallet, and the currency exchange used by Darkside would have had to cooperate with the law enforcement agency or been hacked.

It’s also feasible that close tracking by an organization like Chainalysis identified wallets that received funds from Darkside, and law enforcement subsequently confiscated the holdings. Such analyses take time, however.

Nonsense, hype, and noise.

Darkside’s post came as a prominent criminal underground forum called XSS announced that it was banning all ransomware activities, a major about-face from the past. The site was previously a significant resource for the ransomware groups REvil, Babuk, Darkside, LockBit, and Nefilim to recruit affiliates, who use the malware to infect victims and in exchange share a cut of the revenue generated. A few hours later, all Darkside posts made to XSS had come down.

In a Friday morning post, security firm Flashpoint wrote:

According to the administrator of XSS, the decision is partially based on ideological differences between the forum and ransomware operators. Furthermore, the media attention from high-profile incidents has resulted in a “critical mass of nonsense, hype, and noise.” The XSS statement offers some reasons for its decision, particularly that ransomware collectives and their accompanying attacks are generating “too much PR” and heightening the geopolitical and law enforcement risks to a “hazard[ous] level.”

The admin of XSS also claimed that when “Peskov [the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin] is forced to make excuses in front of our overseas ‘friends’—this is a bit too much.” They hyperlinked an article on the Russian News website Kommersant entitled “Russia has nothing to do with hacking attacks on a pipeline in the United States” as the basis for these claims.

Within hours, two other underground forums—Exploit and Raid Forums—had also banned ransomware-related posts, according to images circulating on Twitter.

REvil, meanwhile, said it was banning the use of its software against health care, educational, and governmental organizations, The Record reported.

Ransomware at a crossroads

The moves by XSS and REvil pose a major short-term disruption of the ransomware ecosystem since they remove a key recruiting tool and source of revenue. Long-term effects are less clear.

“In the long run, it’s hard to believe the ransomware ecosystem will completely fade out, given that operators are financially motivated and the schemes employed have been effective,” Intel471 analysts said in an email. They said it was more likely that ransomware groups will “go private,” meaning they will no longer publicly recruit affiliates on public forums, or will unwind their current operations and rebrand under a new name.

Ransomware groups could also alter their current practice of encrypting data so it’s unusable by the victim while also downloading the data and threatening to make it public. This double-extortion method aims to increase the pressure on victims to pay. The Babuk ransomware group recently started phasing out its use of malware that encrypts data while maintaining its blog that names and shames victims and publishes their data.

“This approach allows the ransomware operators to reap the benefits of a blackmail extortion event without having to deal with the public fallout of disrupting the business continuity of a hospital or critical infrastructure,” the Intel471 analysts wrote in the email.

For now, the only evidence that Darkside’s infrastructure and cryptocurrency have been seized is the words of admitted criminals, hardly enough to consider confirmation.

“I could be wrong, but I suspect this is simply an exit scam,” Brett Callow, a threat analyst with security firm Emsisoft told Ars. “Darkside get to sail off into the sunset—or, more likely rebrand—without needing to share the ill-gotten gains with their partners in crime.”

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Cars

2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD Review: Too much and not enough

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Infiniti is getting squeezed. On the one hand, its premium rivals have fresher ranges, more competitive models, and sports sedans like this 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD can no longer count on power alone to distinguish them. On the other, mainstream and more affordable vehicles are getting ever-stronger, including cars from Infiniti’s own Nissan sibling.

It’s a pinch that has already claimed the QX80, Infiniti’s three-row SUV being more expensive yet less user-friendly than its Nissan Armada counterpart, and the QX50, which delivers “acceptable” in a category where “outstanding” has become table-stakes. I suspect the Q50 will be next to succumb.

Launched in 2013, and then massaged back in 2016, the Q50 is no spring chicken. Lest I be accused of automotive agism, let’s be clear: older needn’t mean worse. Get the recipe just right – as the old G-Class and Defender showed – and you can coast for decades on enthusiast appeal alone.

Problem is, I’m not convinced the Q50 is cooked quite right. At least, not sufficiently to make it an icon of the sort that you willingly look beyond its peccadillos. In short, a great engine does not a great car make.

Make no mistake, Infiniti’s 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo is a lovable thing. 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque are more than healthy, even half a decade after Infiniti unveiled it, and it sounds pretty darn glorious too. Raspy and prone to the occasional bark, it’s an exhaust that reminds you why – even with electrifications’ clear performance advantages at this point – EVs haven’t quite won over everybody yet.

Infiniti pairs it here with all-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission. The Q50 grips nicely, and though there’s a little lean through more aggressive cornering it’s never to the point where you’re afraid things might break loose. It’s definitely tuned on the firm side, and shoddy road surfaces do make themselves known in the cabin.

The automatic shifts smoothly, and is positively slushy when you’re pottering around town. It’s capable of faster stuff, though, however in Sport and Sport+ modes it’s perennially reluctant to upshift. That’s great when you’re pushing hard, but does leave you sounding like the person who forgot how to change gears when you’re tapping the 400 horses for more point-and-squirt play.

Since I’m British and already riddled with anxieties, I figured it was better to take over the gear-changes myself, lest people in the lane next to me think I just enjoyed the sound of a V6 spinning at 4,500 rpm while I was cruising at 35 mph or so. The good news is that manual overrides here don’t have any of the lag or seeming-disconnect that some automatics suffer, where it can feel like each snap of the paddle has to go via a panel of adjudicators before the cogs are actually shuffled.

My review car didn’t come with Infiniti’s most controversial option, the drive-by-wire steering. In theory, it allows for more responsive control as well as the ability to more comprehensively tweak the performance and feedback according to each drive mode. In reality, whenever I’ve driven an Infiniti with it, I’ve found it oddly light and distant: as though you’re using a console’s gaming wheel.

Honestly, even the Q50’s regular steering still feels a little disconnected from what’s happening at the road. Enough that, after my first drive, I double-checked the specs to make doubly-sure the Direct Adaptive Steering wasn’t added.

The overall feeling is a little… old-school. Infiniti’s V6 has plenty of torque from the get-go, but the underwhelming steering and transmission foibles just don’t make the best of it. A good sports sedan makes you want to drive it, even when you don’t have any other reason than desire. Even in Red Sport form, the Q50 just doesn’t inspire that lust.

The interior only helps a little. There’s plenty of space for those up front, but the rear bench is tight. Cabin nooks and cubbies are on the small side, too, and the 13 cu-ft trunk is easily bested by its competitors. It’s the tech where things really show their age, mind: Infiniti’s dual touchscreen dashboard is complex and the graphics are lumpen and ugly.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is – on the Red Sport 400 – a well-tuned Bose 16-speaker audio system, but they’re not enough to distract you from the small, outdated-looking display that’s sandwiched between the analog gauges.

Part of my frustration is the sense that Infiniti isn’t really trying, here. Or, at least, if the wishlist of potential upgrades for the Q50 had been ranked from easiest to toughest, the automaker hasn’t tackled even the low-hanging fruit. Sure, ditching the twin-screen infotainment for a whole new platform might be cost-prohibitive, but swapping in some metal paddle-shifters, replacing the cheap-feeling generic Nissan starter button, and upgrading some of the more plasticky trim would go a long way.

Instead you pay $145 to add charging ports to the rear, and that just seems ridiculous on a $58k luxury sedan. You do, at least, get leather, a power moonroof, heating for the front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance – that works well, unlike some rival systems – and dual-zone climate control. On the safety side, there’s predictive forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot warnings and backup collision intervention, lane departure warnings, and a 360-degree camera that, though suffering woefully low-resolution graphics, does at least flag any moving objects to you.

Outside, 19-inch alloys are standard, plus red-painted calipers for the grippy sport brakes. All-in, with the carbon fiber side mirror covers and rear spoiler, the new Slate Gray paint, illuminated kick-plates, and the Cargo Package, it brings the 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD to $61,890 including the $1,025 destination.

For running costs, the EPA says you should see 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. Not great on paper – though the RWD version does nudge ahead a little – but I managed over 24 mpg without too much effort.

2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 Verdict

The market has spoken and, as buyers swarm SUVs and crossovers, the stakes and expectations are higher than ever for a sports sedan. Therein lies Infiniti’s problem: the Q50 Red Sport 400 feels a lot like the car which launched in 2016. For about the same money today, you could have an AMG C43 or a BMW M340i xDrive, both down on power but each more engaging to drive and with nicer accommodations.

Or, for that matter, you could soon buy a 2021 Acura TLX Type S. Again it’s down on power, but it’ll be considerably cheaper than the Infiniti and the difference in cabin design and tech is chalk-and-cheese. In the end, after all, while high horsepower numbers are nice they’re still only part of an overall package.

That’s the challenge the Q50 faces. The V6 under its hood is the star, but even a perfect powertrain can’t carry a car that’s lacking elsewhere, and Infiniti’s isn’t even a perfect powertrain. It’s a potent engine, and it sounds fantastic, but the rest of the pieces here just don’t add up to something properly compelling in a fiercely competitive segment.

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Science

Researchers force two mice to hang out and induce FOMO in a third

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Since its advent in 2005, a technique called optogenetics has made it vastly easier to link neural activity with behavior and to understand how neurons and brain regions are connected to each other. Neuroscientists just pick the (animal) neurons they’re interested in, genetically engineer them to express a light-responsive protein, and then stimulate them with the right type of light. This technique can be used to inhibit or excite a select subset of neurons in living, breathing, moving animals, illuminating which neural networks dictate the animals’ behaviors and decisions.

Taking advantage of work done in miniaturizing the optogenetic hardware, researchers have now used optogenetics to alter the activity in parts of the brain that influence social interactions in mice. And they’ve exerted a disturbing level of control over the way the mice interact.

Going small

A big limitation for early optogenetic studies was that the wires and optical fibers required to get light into an animal’s brain also get in the animals’ way, impeding their movements and potentially skewing results. Newer implantable wireless devices were developed about five years ago, but they can only be placed near certain brain regions. They’re also too tiny to accommodate many circuit components and receiver antennas, and they have to be programmed beforehand. Pity the poor would-be mind controllers who have to deal with such limited tools.

Enter John Rogers, founding director of the newly endowed Center on Bio-Integrated Electronics at Northwestern University. His lab recently invented multilateral optogenetic devices that can be implanted into the heads or backs of animals as small as mice. The devices can receive instructions on different channels, so they allow researchers to independently and simultaneously modulate neuronal activity in different brain regions of one mouse or in different mice within the same enclosure. The devices are controlled wirelessly from a PC, and researchers can alter the instructions to them in real time as an experiment is proceeding.

After confirming that the implanted devices neither affected nor were affected by a mouse’s movements and that they didn’t damage any of the mouse’s tissues or physiology, the scientists in Rogers’ group popped a light-responsive protein into some dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental areas of some mice. These regions are linked to reward processing. The researchers then implanted their new device under the skin of the transgenic mouse.

The first tests confirmed results attained in previous optogenetic experiments: implant-affected mice that got a dopamine-fueled reward via a burst of light hovered on the side of the enclosure where the system was programmed to produce light. So far, so good. Next, since the researchers knew that dopamine promotes social behavior, they wanted to see if the light stimulation made the implanted mice choose to hang out near another mouse rather than a toy one. They did.

Getting social

To put the system to use, the researchers tested an idea from a number of earlier studies suggesting that mice that socialize together tend to have synchronized activity in a specific area of their brains. The new optogenetic hardware provided a way to artificially create that synchrony.

So the researchers generated “synchronized interbrain activity” by stimulating two mice with 5-Hz tonic (continuous) stimulation for five minutes and desynchronized activity by stimulating other pairs of mice with 25-Hz bursting stimulation for five minutes. About twice as many of the synchronized mice chose to socialize with each other—grooming, sniffing, etc.—as the desynchronized mice did. When two mice were synchronized into a 5-Hz pair and a third mouse got the 25-Hz burst, the pair shunned the desynchronized third. The researchers conclude that “imposed interbrain synchrony shapes social interaction and social preference in mice.”

The Rogers Research Group’s home page is subtitled “science that brings solutions to society.” The lab has developed wearable wireless devices that seamlessly track vital signs of neonates in the NICU, record electrical activity in the brain, and detect and monitor symptoms of COVID-19. And that was only in the past year.

So before you let your mind go to dark places—about brainwashing and goose-stepping and everyone forever staying sequestered in their ideologically homogeneous Facebook silos—just remember that Dr. Rogers is using his powers for good. Also, this work was done in genetically engineered mice.

Nature Neuroscience, 2021. DOI:  10.1038/s41593-021-00849-x

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