Spacex Launches Ants, Avocados, Robot to Space Station

A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday.The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company’s 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX’s newest ocean platform, named A Shortfall of Gravitas.SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.A Japanese start-up company’s experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc.’s robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs, said chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki.As early as 2025, a squad of these arms could help build lunar bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.It was the second launch attempt; Saturday’s try was foiled by stormy weather.NASA turned to SpaceX and other U.S. companies to deliver cargo and crews to the space station, once the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 


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Apple CEO Brings Home $750 Million Bonus

It pays to be the leader of Apple.The company’s CEO, Tim Cook, was recently given a bonus of $750 million worth of Apple stock, marking his 10th anniversary as CEO.The bonus was revealed Thursday in a regulatory filing.He promptly cashed out the 5 million shares, which were given based on both performance and time with the company.The bonus plan was put in place after Cook had become CEO in 2011, shortly before the death of company co-founder Steve Jobs.Since Cook took over the company, Apple’s value has reached an estimated $2.4 trillion, and its share price has risen 1,200%, according to BBC.Cook, who is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, still owns 3.2 million shares of the company.The regulatory findings also show Cook donated 70,000 shares, worth $10 million, to charity.Before joining Apple in 1998, he worked for IBM and Compaq.


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Tech Companies Pledge Billions in Cybersecurity Investments

Some of the country’s leading technology companies have committed to investing billions of dollars to strengthen cybersecurity defenses and to train skilled workers, the White House announced Wednesday following President Joe Biden’s private meeting with top executives. The Washington gathering was held during a relentless stretch of ransomware attacks that have targeted critical infrastructure and major corporations, as well as other illicit cyber operations that U.S. authorities have linked to foreign hackers. The Biden administration has been urging the private sector to do its part to protect against those increasingly sophisticated attacks. In public remarks before the meeting, Biden referred to cybersecurity as a “core national security challenge” for the U.S. “The reality is most of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone,” Biden said. “I’ve invited you all here today because you have the power, the capacity and the responsibility, I believe, to raise the bar on cybersecurity.” After the meeting, the White House announced that Google had committed to invest $10 billion in cybersecurity over the next five years, money aimed at helping secure the software supply chain and expand zero-trust programs. The Biden administration has looked for ways to safeguard the government’s supply chain following a massive Russian government cyberespionage campaign that exploited vulnerabilities and gave hackers access to the networks of U.S. government agencies and private companies. Microsoft, meanwhile, said it would invest $20 billion in cybersecurity over the next five years and make available $150 million in technical services to help local governments upgrade their defenses. IBM plans to train 150,000 people in cybersecurity over three years, Apple said it would develop a new program to help strengthen the technology supply chain, and Amazon said it would offer to the public the same security awareness training it gives to employees. Top executives of each of those companies were invited to Wednesday’s meeting, as were financial industry executives and representatives from the energy, education and insurance sectors. A government initiative that at first supported the cybersecurity defenses of electric utilities has now been expanded to focus on natural gas pipelines, the White House said Wednesday. Though ransomware was intended as one aspect of Wednesday’s gathering, a senior administration official who briefed reporters in advance said the purpose was much broader, centered on identifying the “root causes of any kind of malicious cyber activity” and also ways in which the private sector can help bolster cybersecurity. The official briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. The meeting took place as Biden’s national security team has been consumed by the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghan citizens. That it remained on the calendar indicates the administration regards cybersecurity as a major agenda item, with the administration official describing Wednesday’s meeting as a “call to action.” The broad cross-section of participants underscores how cyberattacks have cut across virtually all sectors of commerce. In May, for instance, hackers associated with a Russia-based cyber gang launched a ransomware attack on a major fuel pipeline in the U.S., causing the pipeline to temporarily halt operations. Weeks later, the world’s largest meat processor, JBS, was hit with an attack by a different hacking group.  In both instances, the companies made multimillion-dollar ransom payments in an effort to get back online. Biden on Wednesday pointed to a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June when he said he made clear his expectation that Russia take steps to rein in ransomware gangs because “they know where (the hackers) are and who they are.” 


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Members of Afghan Robotics Team Reach Mexico

Five members of an Afghan girls robotics team have arrived in Mexico after evacuating from their home country. The girls landed in Mexico City on Tuesday night and were welcomed at the airport by Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. “We might be very far away of what is happening in Afghanistan, but the human cause, the protection of the values and the causes that identify us Mexicans have made us commit so they can be in Mexico,” Ebrard said. An Afghan woman, member of the Afghanistan Robotic team, is seen during a press conference after her arrival to Mexico after asking for refuge, at the Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, on August 24, 2021.The robotics team made up of girls and women as young as 14 years old gained attention in 2017 when they traveled to the United States to take part in an international competition. Last year, they worked to develop an open-source, low-cost ventilator as hospitals in many countries faced shortages of equipment to help coronavirus patients. The Associated Press quoted one team member Tuesday saying the team was grateful to Mexico “for saving our lives.” She said that thanks to Mexico’s actions, “our story will not end in a sad way” because of the Taliban. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters. 


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YouTube Says It Has Removed 1 Million ‘Dangerous’ Videos on COVID 

YouTube said Wednesday that it had removed more than 1 million videos with “dangerous coronavirus misinformation” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.The statement by the Google-owned video platform came as social media platforms are under fire from political leaders for failing to stem the spread of false and harmful misinformation and disinformation about the virus and other topics.YouTube said in a blog post that it relies on “expert consensus from health organizations,” including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, but noted that in some cases, “misinformation is less clear-cut” as new facts emerge.”Our policies center on the removal of any videos that can directly lead to egregious real world harm,” chief product officer Neal Mohan wrote.”Since February of 2020, we’ve removed over 1 million videos related to dangerous coronavirus information, like false cures or claims of a hoax,” he said. “In the midst of a global pandemic, everyone should be armed with absolutely the best information available to keep themselves and their families safe.”YouTube said it was working to accelerate the process for removing videos with misinformation while simultaneously delivering those from authoritative sources.Mohan said the platform removes close to 10 million videos per quarter and that the majority of them have been watched fewer than 10 times.”Speedy removals will always be important but we know they’re not nearly enough. … The most important thing we can do is increase the good and decrease the bad,” he said.”When people now search for news or information, they get results optimized for quality, not for how sensational the content might be.”YouTube also said it had removed “thousands” of videos for violating election misinformation policies since the U.S. vote in November, with three-fourths removed before hitting 100 views.
 


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Maryland Promises Full Scholarship to Teenagers Who Get Vaccinated

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan recently announced that 20 teenagers who get vaccinated against the coronavirus will be eligible to receive a full ride to an in-state public university. Maxim Moskalkov has the story.Camera: Anatolie Casenco      


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Russians Hacked Federal Prosecutors, US Justice Department Says

The Russian hackers behind the massive SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign broke into the email accounts of some of the most prominent federal prosecutors’ offices around the country last year, the Justice Department said.The department said 80% of Microsoft email accounts used by employees in the four U.S. attorney offices in New York were breached. All told, the Justice Department said, in 27 U.S. attorney offices at least one employee’s email account was compromised during the hacking campaign.The Justice Department said in a statement Friday that it believes the accounts were compromised from May 7 to Dec. 27, 2020. Such a timeframe is notable because the SolarWinds campaign, which infiltrated dozens of private-sector companies and think tanks as well as at least nine U.S. government agencies, was first discovered and publicized in mid-December.The Biden administration in April announced sanctions, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats, in response to the SolarWinds hack and Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied wrongdoing.Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School, said office emails frequently contained all sorts of sensitive information, including case strategy discussions and names of confidential informants, when she was a federal prosecutor in New York.”I don’t remember ever having someone bring me a document instead of emailing it to me because of security concerns,” she said, noting exceptions for classified materials.The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts confirmed in January that it was also breached, giving the SolarWinds hackers another entry point to steal confidential information like trade secrets, espionage targets, whistleblower reports and arrest warrants.The list of affected offices includes several large and high-profile ones like those in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington and the Eastern District of Virginia.The Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, where large numbers of staff were hit, handle some of the most prominent prosecutions in the country.”New York is the financial center of the world and those districts are particularly well known for investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes and other cases, including investigating people close to the former president,” said Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham Law School and a former prosecutor in the Southern District.The department said all victims had been notified and it is working to mitigate “operational, security and privacy risks” caused by the hack. The Justice Department said in January that it had no indication that any classified systems were affected.The Justice Department did not provide additional detail about what kind of information was taken and what impact such a hack may have on ongoing cases. Members of Congress have expressed frustration with the Biden administration for not sharing more information about the impact of the SolarWinds campaign.The Associated Press previously reported that SolarWinds hackers had gained access to email accounts belonging to the then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and members of the department’s cybersecurity staff, whose jobs included hunting threats from foreign countries. 


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