US says Canadian accused in Yahoo hack poses flight risk

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 3:59 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 3:58 PM


            US says Canadian accused in Yahoo hack poses flight risk

A Canadian man accused of breaking into hundreds of millions of Yahoo email accounts poses an "extremely high flight risk" due to alleged ties to Russian intelligence agents, U.S. authorities say.

U.S. law enforcement officials call Karim Baratov a "hacker-for-hire" paid by members of the Russian Federal Security Service.

In an application for arrest filed with an Ontario court, they say Baratov has the money to leave Canada and the ability to destroy evidence related to his alleged activities while on the run.

Baratov was arrested under the extradition act last Tuesday. Authorities say he and three others were indicted for computer hacking, economic espionage and other crimes.

Prosecutors said that the defendants used a technique known as "spear-phishing" to dupe Yahoo users into thinking they were receiving legitimate emails to break into at least 500 million accounts in search of personal information and financial data such as gift card and credit card numbers.

A bail hearing is scheduled for Baratov on April 5.

Baratov's lawyer, Amedeo Dicarlo, has said the allegations against his client are unfounded. Dicarlo said he will seek to have Baratov released and plans to fight an extradition order.

He declined to discuss Baratov's personal or professional life, describing him only as a successful entrepreneur.

In documents filed with the Canadian court prior to his detention, U.S. authorities warned that if Baratov found out about the warrant for his arrest before it could be carried out, he might attempt to flee. They pointed to the case of one of Baratov's alleged co-conspirators, Alexsey Belan, who was previously arrested for another matter in Greece in 2013 and was to be extradited to the United States.

Belan was released on bail while waiting for his extradition hearing and fled to Russia, where he "benefited from the protection afforded by Russian government officials," according to the documents. Belan had previously been indicted in 2012 and 2013 and was named one of FBI's most wanted cyber-criminals in November 2013.

Baratov appeared to live a lavish lifestyle, which he documented on public social media accounts such as Instagram, posting photos of luxury cars and money.

Senators try to speed up deployment of self-driving cars

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 5:12 PM

Senators try to speed up deployment of self-driving cars

WASHINGTON — In the first major congressional attempt to address the advent of self-driving cars, two senators said Monday they're launching a bipartisan effort to help to speed up the deployment of the vehicles on the nation's roads.

Republican John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan, said they're exploring legislation that "clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving vehicle technology."

The senators' counterparts in the House are also gearing up to address the new technology, with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Automakers cite federal requirements that all vehicles must have steering wheels and brake pedals as examples of regulations that presume there will be a human driver and might inhibit the introduction of self-driving cars. Congressional action may be needed to make changes.

"Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today's technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," Michael Ableson, General Motors' vice president of global strategy, plans to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to prepared testimony.

Proponents of self-driving cars say they hold the potential to dramatically reduce traffic deaths by eliminating human error, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says is a factor in 94 percent of all fatal crashes. More than 35,000 people were killed on the nation's roads in 2015, up over 7 percent from the previous year. Traffic deaths surged an additional 8 percent in the first nine months of last year.

Automakers also say that states are moving ahead with their own regulations, creating the potential for a confusing "patchwork" of laws.

"Our effort will also include a discussion on the existing patchwork of laws and regulations and the traditional roles of federal and state regulators," Thune and Peters said in a joint statement.

Safety advocates have urged the government to set standards that specifically address the safety of self-driving cars. The Obama administration last year issued a voluntary set of safety goals for makers of self-driving cars to meet with the understanding that enforceable regulations could follow.

The Trump administration hasn't yet indicated what approach it will take to the technology.

Some people may first experience riding in a self-driving car by hailing an on-demand, ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. Uber began offering passengers rides in autonomous cars with a human as a backup driver last year in Pittsburgh. Joseph Okpaku, Lyft's vice president of government relations, says in prepared testimony for the House hearing that the company's goal is "to operate a pilot in a major city this year that will permit consumers to enjoy, for the first time, a Lyft in an autonomous vehicle."

Tech crawl: Passenger-carrying drones and new features from Google Maps

Published: Monday, February 13, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

Tech crawl: Passenger-carrying drones and new features from Google Maps

Happy Monday, Austin. Hope your weekend was a good one.
As you settle into the work week, here’s a look at some of the technology stories building a buzz around the Interwebs this morning:

Passenger carrying drones? Yes, please!

In Dubai, government leaders have an idea for battling traffic jams: a passenger-carrying drone.  Yes, seriously.

Dubai officials say they hope to have the passenger-carrying drone -- which is a Chinese-made device known as the EHang 184 -- buzzing through the skyline of the city-state as soon as July.

The craft can carry a passenger weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and a small suitcase. After buckling into its race-car-style seat, the craft's sole passenger selects a destination on a touch-screen pad in front of the seat and the drone flies there automatically.

It’s hard to know if the egg-shaped, four-legged craft will really take off as a transportation alternative in this car-clogged city.

"This is not only a model," said Mattar al-Tayer, head of Dubai's Roads & Transportation Agency. "We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai's skies.”

Here’s hoping it works. And that we can get a fleet of them for Austin.

New features for Google Maps

Google Maps is rolling out a new feature that lets you create Spotify-like "playlists" of favorite local spots on Google Maps that you can then share with friends. The idea is, obviously, pretty similar to Foursquare, but with Google’s size and reach,  the idea is a huge network of lists can be created that gives users "a speed-dial-like network of places if you're trying to figure out where to dine or visit on short notice," Engadget writes.  TechCrunch and The Verge also weigh in on the new Google feature and its possible uses, with The Verge piece wondering if Google Maps is trying to step into the social network space.

New tech might mean better Wi-Fi

We’d all like better, more consistent Wi-Fi networks, right? Well, Qualcomm on Monday rolled out some new technology that some tech experts say could make your home Wi-Fi a lot better. Mashable’s Raymond Wong has a piece on how the new Qualcomm tech works, and what it might mean for you.

Spotify helps listeners cook turkey with Thanksgiving-themed playlists

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 @ 3:09 PM

Spotify helps listeners cook turkey with Thanksgiving-themed playlists

Spotify wants to help you cook your Thanksgiving turkey just right.

Time for Turkey, the streaming service's holiday-specific program,  gives users three steps for a perfectly-done turkey: provide the turkey's weight, choose what genre of music you'd like to listen to, and enjoy.

Genres include Americana, "Family Time," "Feeling Thankful," "Club Kitchen," "Freshly Baked" and "Golden Oldies." Each themed playlist name works off of the genre. For example,  the "Freshly Baked" playlist brings out the newest hits for you to enjoy some never-tasted-before singles. "Family Time" includes songs that every generation can enjoy, such as "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees or "Riptide" by Vance Joy.

Unfortunately, none of the playlists include the classic Thanksgiving songs of Bob's Burgers, including one of the best Thanksgiving song collaboration of all time.

While the songs themselves may not be Thanksgiving-themed, the variety of turkey accompaniment that Spotify has provided contributes so much to the dinner process. Even if only for timing purposes, Time for Turkey will add to your Thanksgiving feast. In an age where we see Christmas advertisements earlier and earlier each year, this feels like a good way for a company to give Thanksgiving a nod of acknowledgment.

Helmet for treating depression being used in Austin

Published: Thursday, June 30, 2016 @ 2:51 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 @ 5:18 PM

Helmet for treating depression being used in Austin

Danny Pyka, an Austinite who worked for Mercedes-Benz for about 10 years, had been suffering from depression for so long and so severely that he was certain his suicidal thoughts would eventually lead to the end of his life.

"It was just miserable," said Pyka, who found work as a handyman, but found it difficult to have a normal life or relationships with his wife and 18-year-old daughter not affected by his condition. "I was secluding myself... I'd close the house off and just sleep pretty much the whole day."

Many attempts at medicating the problem over 10 to 15 years failed. He heard through a friend that studies were being done on a new technology, Deep TMS, or Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, from a New Jersey and Tel Aviv-based company called Brainsway. Pyka was able to get the treatment in Austin and says he noticed an improvement after the first week of about nine weeks of treatments.

"The suicidal thoughts were ruminating thoughts that affected me throughout my daily life. After the first week and so on, they just dissipated. I'm very fortunate and very happy that it worked for me," Pyka said.

Pyka had the treatment done at Senior Adults Speciality Healthcare in Northwest Austin, which has been working with TMS technology for about two and a half years. TMS works through a mounted helmet that generates an electrical pulse, not unlike the technology in an MRI. Patients cycle through two-second pulses followed by 20 seconds of rest for each sequence, called a "Train," and it's repeated for about 20 minutes. Treatments are done daily for about six weeks, followed by a three week tapering off period.

Different patients may require a different power intensity depending on each patient's motor threshold, the number of sequences is the same for all patience. The pulses for this particular treatment (there are others being tested for other afflictions) target the primary motor cortex. The low-level electrical charge affects mood regulation, retraining the nervous system to work correctly.

Dr. Jaron Winston says that unlike electroconvulsive treatment, or shock treatment, which can have severe side effects, TMS has proven for many of his patients to be the a less invasive treatment for chronic depression that works more effectively than medication.

"About 60 percent of patients (within our clinic) go into total remission of their depression; 60 to 70 percent had significant reduction of depressive symptoms," Winston said.

Clinical studies of the technology since its FDA approval for treating depression in 2008 have bolstered the view that it can be effective for some who have not gotten results from medication or for those who've relapsed into depression,.

The National Institute of Mental Health has funded studies into the technology, which lists it on its website alongside electroconsulsive therapy. The American Psychiatric Association includes TMS in its 2010 guidelines for treating major depressive disorders  and the organization says it will be updating those guidelines soon with more recent research.

Winston said that patients can experience some minor pain from the pulse as nerves on the scalp are stimulated, but that it typically goes away, which Pyka said was his experience.

"It feels like somebody thumping on the right side of your head for the amount of seconds" the machine runs, Pyka said. But by the third or fourth treatment, he said, "it gets more simple to do. I’ve honestly nodded off a couple of times in the chair. You get used to it."

In the U.S., Deep TMS is only FDA-approved for use in treating depression, and Winston says that insurance typically won't cover followup maintenance appointments or the treatment itself unless medications have used and failed to treat the depression.

 Off-label treatments being tested using other versions of the technology could help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar depression and even smoking addiction by stimulating other parts of the brain.

Winston said that many potential patients and even some doctors and psychiatrists are unaware that the technology exists and is available, particularly for people who aren't responding to medication. 

"It's another treatment to help make (patients) functional again, to make them come out of their depression and withdrawal states," Winston said. "As treatment goes by, they will say they've never felt this well, their thinking is clearer, their cognition is better, than can focus, their mood is better, sleep is better. But there's still people who don't know anything about it."

Pyka, who has completed treatment with Deep TMS, says he's been more productive and is now able to enjoy watching his daughter grow up without taking five or six medications a day (he only takes medication for sleep issues now). 

The crying and worrying, he says, has subsided.

"It's been a life-changing experience."