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  1. It was just back in March that German electrical automation company Festo unveiled two of its latest robots inspired by animals – a crawling/rolling spider and a flying fox bat. Now, it's taken the wraps off BionicFinWave, which moves like a cuttlefish. Along with the polyclad marine flatworm, which was another inspiration for the robot, the actual cuttlefish moves forwards and backwards through the water via two continuously-undulating fins that run along both sides of its body. The largely 3D-printed BionicFinWave is equipped with two such fins of its own, although they're made out of highly-flexible silicone. Each fin is moved by nine integrated lever arms, which are connected via a flat crankshaft to one of two servo motors housed within the robot. Those motors operate independently of one another – this lets the two fins undulate at different speeds and in opposite directions, allowing the robot to turn left or right on the spot. It moves up and down via a third motor that it uses to bend its articulated body accordingly. A certain degree of buoyancy is achieved via a series of watertight cavities within the robot's body, that house its electronics. BionicFinWave was recently shown to the public for the first time at the Achema 2018 tech trade show in Frankfurt, where it autonomously swam through a network of clear acrylic pipes. It was able to do so via a pressure sensor that allowed it to gauge its depth within the water, along with ultrasound sensors that it used to measure how close it was to the walls. It's also capable of wirelessly transmitting its pressure readings, along with data such as water temperature, to a tablet located outside of the pipes. The robot itself is 370 mm long (14.6 inches) and weighs 430 g (0.9 lb). Down the road, it is hoped that devices like it could be used for tasks such as mechanical inspection and scientific data acquisition, in which a premium is placed on propulsion systems that allow for slow, precise movements while creating little turbulence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRNq55EbnZc Source: Festo
  2. Jaguar Vector Racing has given electric propulsion on the water a big boost by breaking the British and world electric speed records for a battery-powered boat. On June 15, the Jaguar Vector Racing V20E piloted by Jaguar Vector co-founder and technical director Peter Dredge made an average speed of 88.61 mph (142.6 km/h) over two legs of the 1-km (0.62-mi) course on Coniston Water in northern England, smashing the previous record of 76.8 mph (123.6 km/h) set in 2008. Created in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering, the V20E was developed using Formula E technology. The stripped-down inshore powerboat made its record-breaking run using two Yasa electric motors powered by batteries weighing in at 705 lb (320 kg) and punching 295 bhp (220 kW). Williams provided the electric power, motor and control systems for the boat. "After 12 months of hard work, this is a fantastic result for the team and our partners and a great first step in bringing the power and versatility of electrification to the marine industry," says Malcolm Crease, CEO of Jaguar Vector Racing. "It is a great honor for the Vector team to follow in the footsteps of Donald Campbell CBE and to set a world record on the historic Coniston Water." Jaguar Vector says that its team will continue to challenge other world and national records over the next year and a half as a way to spur innovation and provide a showcase for British engineering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690QkOysBBA Source: Jaguar Vector
  3. Next week, a team from Textron Inc. and Bell Helicopter will demonstrate the maneuverability of its experimental V-280 Valor helicopter, a platform that may one day replace the U.S. military's UH-60 Black Hawk fleet. The June 18 demonstration comes six months after the V-280's first test flight as a technology demonstrator in the Army's Future Vertical Lift program. "It's not just a flight test, it's actually a demonstration of what we have been able to achieve so far," retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Schloesser, executive vice president for strategic pursuits at Bell, told Military.com. "What you will see is the aircraft go through a variety of maneuvers. ... One of the things we want to demonstrate is just how able you are to quickly reposition the aircraft in flight," he said. "When you are on the objective area, you are not flying fast, but what you do have to do is do tail maneuvers, turn maneuvers, roll and pitch maneuvers in a very accelerated way." The V-280 is one of two multi-role technology demonstrator platforms the service selected in 2014 to prove out new capabilities for Future Vertical Lift, an Army-led, joint program to create futuristic helicopters designed to far exceed the performance of legacy aircraft such as the Army Black Hawk and Marine Corps H-1. Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. built the SB>1 Defiant as the other technology demonstrator, but so far the Defiant has not conducted its first test flight. Bell and its partners have invested several hundred million dollars in the Valor in the hope that a form of it will one day meet the requirements for the long-range assault helicopter variant of FVL. "That is what our V-280 is aimed at, the one that carries 12 to 14 passengers, the size of an augmented Army squad or a U.S. Marine Corps squad," Schlosser said. Through the end of this year, Bell will attempt to prove it can meet performance goals for the Valor such as speed and extended range. The aircraft can currently fly at 195 knots, but it will soon be able to reach a max speed of 280 knots, Schlosser said. "The V-280 is named after the goal to fly at 280 knots, which is more than twice the speed of a Black Hawk," he said. "Over the next few months, you will see us aim for that high-end speed above 195 ... up to 280." The V-280 will also be able to fly at least 400 nautical miles without refueling, Schlosser said. "It all depends on the mission, but [what] we are really talking about is being able to do a 200-nautical-mile air assault and come on back," he said. At the end of the year, the goal is to fly the aircraft in an "autonomous manner," Schlosser said, explaining that the military is very interested in "supervised autonomy that frees up aviators up in front to concentrate on accomplishing the overall combat mission rather than just flying the airframe from one spot to another spot." It is unclear when the Army will make a decision on its two tech demonstrators, but Schlosser said there is still work to be done in the effort. "The idea that you have to make a choice right now and it's either one or the other, I don't think is accurate," he said. At the same time, Bell and its partners have invested $500 million into the Valor. "We made a huge investment in this already," he said. "We can go as fast as the Army ... would like to go. We are here to support them; we are not here to tell them how to run their business. But we are reminding them that we cannot just keep engineers out there doing something without contracts and things of that nature." Schlosser is confident that Army leaders will not make the same mistakes as they did in the failed Future Combat Systems Program, an effort that resulted in many expensive, high-tech platforms, such as the futuristic Comanche attack helicopter, being canceled. "I helped cancel some of them. Remember I was twice director of Army aviation," he said. "There is no doubt that we have got that in the back of our minds." But Schlosser also said he believes that the sophisticated military technology being fielded by potential adversaries such as Russia and China is real. "I think that ... there is a realization our vaunted military in some cases is less relevant than it used to be, say, five to 10 years ago," he said. "So now you've got this very sophisticated problem" that's going to require that our military "operate in a very intense and chaotic battlefield and survive it though speed, and range and survivability," Schlosser said.
  4. Government intelligence agencies have a plan to build computers that store information inside DNA and other organic molecules. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a group within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that develops technologies for U.S. intelligence services, announced plans to develop "tabletop"-sized machines that can store and retrieve data from large batches of polymers — a term that refers to a wide variety of long, stringlike molecules. Polymers can store data in the sequence of individual atoms or groups of atoms. The project, which was reported by Nextgov, is an attempt to solve a basic problem of the modern era: the vast and growing costs of data storage. Datacenters around the world sucked up 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity in 2016. That's about 3 percent of the global supply, according to a report in the Independent, and it accounts for 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Experts told the Independent that the world can't sustain the exponential rate of global data center growth. A 2016 paper in the journal BioMed Research International found that DNA, in particular, could store computer information more densely, require less energy, and survive higher and lower temperatures than conventional hard drives. The authors of that paper reported on the successes of prototype DNA computers that used the genetic molecules for both long-term storage and random access memory (RAM). [Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars: The 10 Coolest DARPA Projects] But no one has yet figured out how to implement DNA data storage on large scales. IARPA officials said the new effort, called Molecular Information Storage, will be broken up into three chunks: a two-year program to figure out how to store data in DNA or other molecules at high speeds, a two-year program to figure out how to retrieve that data at high speeds, and a two-year effort to develop an operating system that can run on that DNA. Many of the technologies IARPA wants to develop are untested at these scales, so it's unclear how far away that proposed "tabletop device" really is.
  5. There are various places – such as airports, prisons and military bases – where people aren't allowed to fly consumer drones. If someone does so anyway, it's always possible to shoot the thing down or remotely disable it. Another option, however, is to net it in mid-air, using the new-and-improved DroneCatcher. Made by Dutch startup Delft Dynamics, the DroneCatcher quadcopter has been around in prototype form since at least 2015, and the commercial model was unveiled last year. Just recently, though, a clever new additional feature was announced – a detachable power tether. When hooked up to that tether, the DroneCatcher receives power from an electrical outlet on the ground, allowing it to already be hovering at altitude for an indefinite period of time. When an approaching intruding drone is detected, however, that tether can be detached from the DroneCatcher by remote control. This allows it be flown unfettered using battery power, in order to quickly reach that drone. Once it's done so, its automated targeting system utilizes multiple onboard sensors (including a gimbal-mounted image-tracking camera and laser rangefinder) to lock onto the enemy aircraft. The DroneCatcher then uses its pneumatic net gun to shoot a net at the target from a distance of up to 20 m (66 ft), capturing it. That net remains attached to the net gun by a cable, allowing the netted quarry to be flown back to a safe landing spot. In the event that the captured drone is too heavy to carry, the cable can be released from the DroneCatcher, letting the payload parachute to the ground. Other features include folding carbon fiber propeller arms, a top forward speed of 20 m/second and a weight of under 6 kg (13 lb), plus the DroneCatcher can fly by battery power for up to 30 minutes per charge. It can be seen in drone-catching action, in the video below. A team at Michigan Technological University has been working on a similar system. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zepmZ574Wjw Source: Delft Dynamics
  6. The U.S. Army has awarded a $49.7 million contract to Robotic Research LLC for autonomous kits to be tested on large supply vehicles in an effort to one day send unmanned resupply convoys across the battlefield. The three-year award is part of the Expedient Leader Follower program, which is designed to extend the scope of the Autonomous Ground Resupply program, according to a recent release from Robotic Research. Army leaders have pledged to make robotics and vehicle autonomy one of the service's top modernization priorities. The Next Generation Combat Vehicle program will be designed around manned and unmanned combat vehicles, giving commanders the option to send robotic vehicles against the enemy before committing manned combat forces, Army officials said. The service plans to build its first Robotic Combat Vehicle technology demonstrator in three years. The early RCVs will help program officials develop future designs of autonomous combat vehicles, officials added. Army Secretary Mark Esper has stressed that autonomous vehicles have a definite place in what became one of the most deadly mission during the Iraq War -- resupply convoy duty. The Army lost "too many" soldiers to improvised explosive device attacks driving and riding in resupply convoys, he said. Under the Expedient Leader Follower program, the autonomous kits, made by Robotic Research, will be installed on Army vehicles, such as the Oshkosh PLS A1s. A series of the optionally manned vehicles will autonomously follow the path of the first, manned vehicle, the release states. The program follows the "Autonomous Mobility Applique Systems (AMAS), Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), and [Autonomous Ground Resupply] programs to develop unmanned prototype systems that address the needs of the Leader Follower Directed Requirement and Program of Record," the release states. The AGR architecture is being developed to "become the de-facto autonomous architecture for all foreseeable ground robotic vehicles," according to the release. "We are deeply honored to have been selected to perform this critical work for the U.S. Army," said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research. "The Robotic Research team shares the Army's commitment to rapidly fielding effective autonomy solutions to our nation's soldiers."
  7. An Israel-based company will unveil its new line of highly mobile Mantis armored vehicles at Eurosatory 2018 in Paris. The Mantis family of tactical armored vehicles will feature four variants that can be customized to seat three, five or eight passengers, according to a recent press release from Carmor Integrated Vehicle Solutions, which has been equipping the Israel Defense Force, NATO and United Nations forces with vehicles since 1947. The Mantis vehicle concept differs from any other known vehicle on the market, according to the release. The driver of the vehicle is seated in a cockpit-like position, allowing for an enhanced field of vision and optimal control of the various digitally displayed systems in the cabin. "The development of the Mantis Family answers the global demand for lightweight vehicles with improved capabilities in the field," Eitan Zait, Carmor's CEO, said in the release. "These new vehicles provide a range of solutions and capabilities together with a unique ergonomic design that do not exist in any other lightweight armored vehicle." Carmor will show off the new Mantis line of vehicles at Eurosatory June 11-15. The Mantis vehicles will be equipped with "multi-layered protection" against kinetic, blast, and nuclear, biological and chemical threats, the release states. They also will include dynamic thermal and visible camouflage options. Carmor's vehicles undergo "rigorous ballistic testing against mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and meet international standards," the release states. The new family of vehicles can be upgraded with night vision and surveillance systems and provide options for mounting foldable weapon station systems, missile launchers, mortar and turrets, the release states. "Due to their lightweight design and superb ergonomics, the vehicles deliver a combination of survivability, agility and lethality, presenting optimum automotive performance and multi-mission readiness for any field requirements," according to the release.
  8. Facial recognition technology is not coming … it's already here. 2018 is fast becoming the year that facial recognition technology finally hits the mainstream with a constant torrent of stories revealing the growing use of these systems by law enforcement agencies around the world. A resident of Cardiff in the UK is now questioning whether the technology violates privacy rights by suggesting that if the country's police forces do not cease using these systems he, and others, will commence high court legal actions. Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, with the backing of Liberty, a UK-based human rights group, is directly targeting the use of automated facial recognition technology by South Wales Police over the past few years. Bridges claims he was unreasonably tracked by this technology on several occasions, most recently in March at a peaceful protest outside the Cardiff Arms Fair. The police reportedly utilized the technology outside the main entrance of the event, potentially scanning Bridges and numerous others without their knowledge. Several UK police forces have been using the technology since 2015 and the police allege all images of passers-by are kept for only 31 days before being erased. "The police have used this intrusive technology throughout Cardiff with no warning, no explanation of how it works and no opportunity for us to consent," says Bridges in his complaint. "They've used it on protesters and on shoppers. This sort of dystopian policing has no place in our city or any other." The case raises four issues of objection in relation to law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. It claims it violates a person's right to privacy, interferes with freedom of expression, discriminates against minorities due to inaccuracies in the technology, and it breaches data protection laws. Another potential legal action in the UK against law enforcement usage of facial recognition systems is coming from Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties group working in association with Green party peer, Jenny Jones. A solicitor representing Jones and Big Brother Watch sums up the concerns saying, "The lack of a statutory regime or code of practice regulating this technology, the uncertainty as to when and where automated facial recognition can be used, the absence of public information and rights of review, and the use of custody images unlawfully held, all indicate that the use of automated facial recognition, and the retention of data as a result, is unlawful and must be stopped as a matter of priority." The rising concern of facial recognition technologies is not limited to the United Kingdom. Back in May, it was revealed that a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained a series of emails revealing how Amazon was selling a facial recognition system to law enforcement agencies across the country. Called Rekognition, the technology can reportedly track large volumes of faces in crowds in real time, identifying up to 100 different facial targets from a single image. The ACLU documents revealed how Amazon were actively working with several government agencies to deploy the technology. Unsurprisingly, the public response to the ACLU documents was filled with outrage. Civil libertarians voiced questions over how the technology could be misused, while several Democratic representatives highlighted concerns regarding the inherent bias in the algorithms. All the issues fell back on the point that this technology was being rapidly deployed with no oversight or regulation. While China may be racing ahead in incorporating facial recognition systems broadly across all sectors of its society, more democratic nations are rightly asking some important questions that are yet to be answered. Is the deployment of a mass facial recognition system in a public space an invasion of personal privacy? After all, it could be argued that tracking a person's movements in public spaces is akin to the harvesting of metadata on a personal smart device. It has already been established that the gathering of metadata without a legal warrant is allowed. Would personalized facial recognition data captured in a public space be considered social metadata? And even more, what right do we have to this kind of privacy in a public space? Notwithstanding the entirely valid questions over accuracy and racial bias in these facial recognition systems – a vitally important issue that fundamentally needs resolution before broad deployment of the technology is justifiable – these legal questions currently arising in both the UK and US do certainly act as a reminder that technology moves faster than government regulation. And while these systems will inevitably be deployed more and more in the future, it is vital that at the very least there is a transparent conversation occurring around what kind of oversight is necessary and at what point personal privacy is being breached. Source: Liberty Human Rights
  9. Rush hour gridlock in downtown Chicago could be set to ease thanks to an underground express transportation system that will ferry passengers to the city's O'Hare Airport. The City of Chicago has just selected Elon Musk's Boring Company to design, build, pay for, operate and maintain the Express Loop, which will see electric pods carry up to 16 people to or from the airport in as little as 12 minutes. The Chicago Infrastructure Trust, acting on behalf of the City of Chicago, chose the Boring Company's proposal for the Chicago Express Loop service from downtown Chicago to Terminals 1 - 3 at the city's O'Hare Airport – where nearly 80 million passengers boarded or disembarked at the Illinois airport in 2017. Electric pods called skates will run on rails under the city, each capable of carrying between 8 and 16 passengers at up to 150 mph (240 km/h). As such, Musk's Boring Company says that a journey from Block 37 in downtown Chicago to O'Hare will be three to four times faster than existing transport systems, at around 12 minutes for the roughly 15 mile (24 km) journey. Though it may sound similar in design to a subway system, the Boring company is quick to point out that the electric skates will move faster than subway cars and they'll be completely autonomous. The company also reckons that folks on the surface won't be able to hear or feel anything during its construction, or while in operation. The Chicago Express Loop service will operate for 20 hours per day, seven days a week, and it's expected that a skate will depart from each station every 30 seconds. The battery-powered skates will be built on a modified Tesla Model X chassis, with a pod that will be climate controlled, have space for luggage and include built-in Wi-Fi. And though actual fares have not yet been announced, the service is being pitched as cheaper than taking a taxi, but probably more expensive than hopping on a bus. Other mass transit projects in the pipeline for the Boring Company include a sizable network in Los Angeles and an East Coast Loop from Washington to Baltimore. You can get a feel for how the Loop system is expected to work in the promo video below. https://vimeo.com/259707751[/CODE] Source: The Boring Company
  10. To keep Summit from overheating, more than 4,000 gallons of water pump through its cooling system every minute, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the beast is housed. It's shiny, fast and ultrapowerful. But it's not the latest Alpha Romeo. A physics laboratory in Tennessee just unveiled Summit, likely to be named the world's speediest and smartest supercomputer. Perhaps most exciting for the U.S.? It's faster than China's. The supercomputer — which fills a server room the size of two tennis courts — can spit out answers to 200 quadrillion (or 200 with 15 zeros) calculations per second, or 200 petaflops, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where the supercomputer resides. "If every person on Earth completed one calculation per second, it would take the world population 305 days to do what Summit can do in 1 second," according to an ORNL statement. Put another way, if one person were to run the calculations, hypothetically, it would take 2.3 trillion days, or 6.35 billion years. [9 Super-Cool Uses for Supercomputers] The former "world's fastest supercomputer," called Sunway TaihuLight, can perform 93,000 calculations a second (93 petaflops), while humming away inside China's National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi. So, how did Summit become such a giant? The supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system that's made up of 4,608 computer servers — each comprising processors (the brains of the computer). But what's actually going on inside these processors is what makes the difference. "Summit's computer architecture is quite different from what we have had before," Daniel Jacobson, a computational biologist at ORNL, who is working on Summit, told Live Science. For one thing, the computer uses the new Tensor Core feature in its graphics cards (made by Nvidia), which is designed specifically for applications focusing on machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and to be fast. Basically, unlike older computer chips, these chips are optimized for a special type of mathematical operation on matrices — or rectangles filled with numbers with rules for adding, subtracting and multiplying the different rows and columns. Computers equipped with AI programs often learn using so-called neural networks, which have several layers in which lower calculations feed into higher ones. And this process requires the heavy use of matrices. "This is a brand-new feature that has allowed us to break the exascale barrier," Jacobson said, referring to a processing speed that's over a billion billion calculations per second. In addition, Summit has loads of superfast memory (RAM) available on each of its nodes, where localized calculations can take place. "Each node on Summit has 512 Gb [gigabytes] of RAM and the network that communicates between nodes uses adaptive routing, and is thus incredibly fast, which helps us scale the calculation across all the nodes very efficiently," Jacobson said. So-called adaptive routing means Summit has some flexibility in how it runs calculations — sort of like networks of brain cells connected to synapses. And though pricey — a New York Times report puts the cost at $200 million — Summit could deliver big for science: The supercomputer is built to integrate artificial intelligence into its computing, which could make Summit a formidable foe in the battle for answers to some of the world's most complex mysteries. "There are many, many scientific uses of this sort of supercomputing capacity," he said. "Whether this is for new discoveries for bioenergy or new discoveries for precision medicine, many things are now possible that simply weren't before." For instance, just as artificial intelligence programs are being co-opted to learn to pick out cats from images, said Jack Wells, the director of science at ORNL, these AI programs running on Summit could learn to pick out and categorize all kinds of data, ranging from those in biological sciences to physics, such as detections of neutrinos and other particles. "Something new that's happening, is it's going to be at the intersection of machine learning and simulation science, because this machine is going to be able to do both of those things in a very significant way," Wells told Live Science. Summit's placement as the "world's fastest" isn't exactly official yet, because the Top500 list for supercomputer rankings hasn't been updated yet, but according to the Times article, it should get the top slot when the list is updated later this month.
  11. Precision Instrument Systems — a research and development arm within the Russian space agency, Roscosmos — recently submitted a proposal to the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) for transforming a 3-meter (10 feet) optical telescope into a laser cannon, the RT network reported. Scientists at Russia's Altay Optical-Laser Center will build this debris-monitoring telescope. Then, to turn it into a debris-vaporizing blaster, the researchers plan to add an optical detection system with an onboard "solid-state laser," according to the Sputnik news agency. After that, it's sizzle time. The cannon will train laser beams on pieces of orbiting detritus in low Earth orbit, heating up the bits of floating junk until they are entirely demolished, according to RT. Human-made space junk consists of discarded or broken parts of spacecraft, launch vehicles and other objects sent into space, and it comes in many sizes. Approximately half a million bits whizzing around the planet are the size of a marble or bigger, and about 20,000 of those are at least the size of a softball, NASA reported in 2013. These bits travel at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (28,164 km/h), and at such speeds, even a relatively small particle of debris could seriously damage a spacecraft or satellite. In 2015, Japanese researchers presented plans for a spacefaring, debris-blasting laser mounted on a powerful telescope intended to detect cosmic rays, Space.com previously reported. Their study described combining many small lasers to produce a single powerful beam that would vaporize matter on the surface of space junk, generating a plume that would propel the debris lower in its orbital path, eventually causing the object to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. And earlier this year, researchers in China published a report proposing another laser-based approach to dealing with space garbage; their solution also suggested using satellite-mounted lasers to nudge orbiting debris into a lower orbit. Clearly, space debris is a problem that would likely benefit from a futuristic solution like a laser cannon. However, while Precision Instrument Systems representatives confirmed the existence of their report to Sputnik, they "declined to elaborate further" on any details related to the project's production time frame or its technical requirements.
  12. Over the past couple of years, copyright holders have continuously claimed that people using Kodi to access copyright-infringing content are being exposed to malware. This week, a security expert working with a Hollywood-affiliated group claimed that "embedded in the media itself are some malware variants." With no evidence of that in public, is it now time to either put up or shut up? Faced with a tsunami of pirated movies and TV shows being accessed at will through millions of piracy-enabled set-top boxes, entertainment industry groups have had to come up with a new anti-piracy strategy. The main goal seems to demonize these devices in the press, creating the impression that anyone using them puts themselves in danger, either due to fire risk or exposure to the perils of viruses and malware. These claims are perfect tabloid material. Newspapers, particularly in the UK, gobble up press releases and quickly spin them out, whether they have any substance to them or not. While there’s little evidence that the scare stories are working as a deterrent among the pirating masses, they are a continuous source of irritation for those who know better. This week a new Kodi-related video appeared on YouTube. Filmed at the RSA conference and presented by CyberScoop editor Greg Otto, it consists of a short interview with Kurtis Minder, CEO of security company GroupSense. “How malware is growing on the Kodi/XMBC platform” was the topic. After a brief introduction on so-called ‘Kodi boxes’, Otto put it to Minder that his company had been looking into the “malware that has been floating through these boxes” and asked him to elaborate. Minder said his company started its research around two months ago, working with the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA). Of course, DCA has been one of the main sources of Kodi-related malware stories, ostensibly for the protection of consumers. However, DCA is affiliated with the entertainment industries and there is little doubt they’re being used to promote an anti-piracy agenda. There is nothing inherently wrong with companies trying to protect their content, of course, but doing so in a way that has the potential to mislead the public is bound to raise questions. Back to the video, Minder told interviewer Otto that his company had been looking at “what the attack footprint would be for malware on the media that would show up on any given Kodi box that would be in someone’s home.” It’s a curious statement to talk about the streaming media itself providing an attack vector but Minder doubled down, stating that they’d discovered several places on the dark web “where people are selling malware-enabled media.” Otto didn’t ask Minder to elaborate on these claims and Minder didn’t respond to TF’s request for comment, so we still have no idea what he’s referring to. However, Otto did pour fuel on the confusion by asking Minder about malware which requires capabilities that no ‘Kodi box’ has. “What happens with [that malware]? Is it a RAT [Remote Access Trojan] that takes over a TV that hooks up to a camera and is almost like spyware? Is it ransomware? What are we seeing?” he asked the security expert. “Some of that is [to be determined], we don’t know exactly what all of it does,” Minder responded. “But we do know there is a fair amount that enable DDoS capability from the boxes.” We have no idea what constitutes a “fair amount” of malware but it sounds like multiple instances. Here on TF back in 2017, we broke the news that a single Kodi addon was programmed to repeatedly visit the websites of rivals. In that single case, the architect of that addon quickly apologized for his actions, the whole thing was concluded inside a week, and we haven’t heard of any similar incident since. But Minder said there are additional risks too. “There is malware that will actually take over some of the components. We don’t know to what extent, if it’s actually listening to the people in the room or not, that stuff hasn’t really been netted out,” he told Otto. Indeed, such a thing has never been reported anywhere, not least since “Kodi boxes” don’t have microphones. But after more prompting from Otto, Minder then went on to talk about Kodi installed on platforms other than Android devices. His revelations about supposed ‘Kodi malware’ in this respect are also controversial. “The delivery mechanism [for the malware] appears to be two primary ways. It’s the Kodi platform itself, which means whatever you load that on. For instance, if you did load that on an [Amazon] Firestick it could still be effective as an attack vector. The other one is the streaming media itself. Embedded in the media itself there are some malware variants,” he said. As far as we know, malware embedded in streaming media that can be consumed via Kodi or indeed any regular media player is unheard of these days. Nathan Betzen, President of the XBMC Foundation, the group behind Kodi, said that at least as far as he is aware, such a thing doesn’t exist. “I’ve never heard of malware in a video stream. I guess anything is possible, but to my knowledge, there have been no reports to that effect,” Betzen said. Bogdan Botezatu, Senior E-threat Analyst at BitDefender, also told TorrentFreak that he’d seen nothing like that in the wild. “Malformed video could leverage vulnerabilities in the player itself, but I’m not aware of such attacks happening in the wild,” Botezatu told us. “Actually, the last time I saw malicious videos distributed via torrent websites was years ago, back in the days when Trojan.Wimad was making the headlines.” Trojan.Wimad was a trojan discovered in 2005 that was able to download remote files from websites by exploiting the Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology available in Windows. The trojan got onto users’ computers as a licensed-protected video file. Kodi users are certainly not interested in those and in any case, Android-based Kodi boxes are unaffected. So, apart from the addon incident that lasted for a week in 2017, we’ve never heard of a live Kodi-related malware attack anywhere in the wild. Betzen told us that he’d heard of an instance where a coin miner had spread via third-party code but that’s an issue for thousands of mainstream websites too. All that being said, we aren’t known as security experts, so we asked security firm AVAST if they could provide information on all Kodi-related malware incidents they have on record. “Unfortunately, we have not observed any Kodi-related malware risks in the wild,” AVAST Communications Manager Stefanie Smith said. Bogdan Botezatu at BitDefender also had no specific instances to report. “There has been a lot of attention towards Kodi in the past year and most of the ‘security risks’ go around the fact that some addons allow users to stream media directly from websites, so this is mostly a legal issue rather than a cyber-security one,” Botezatu said. The BitDefender expert did, however, point us to a security advisory from CheckPoint which detailed a software vulnerability affecting Kodi, VLC, and other players using subtitles. “Kodi 17.1 was known to have been vulnerable to a subtitle parsing bug that allowed an attacker to remotely control the Kodi box. This is one of the most serious threats I know of because third parties could rig subtitles uploaded to various repositories and this would go unnoticed for a while,” he said. While this vulnerability could have been used for nefarious purposes, there is no evidence of it ever being exploited in the wild. And, in common with all responsible platforms, Kodi and all others involved fixed the issue before any damage could be done. Moving through a list of vendors, Symantec was asked if they had ever encountered any actual Kodi-related malware. The company said they had nothing to report at this time but did highlight the same subtitle vulnerability pointed out by BitDefender. To be clear, vulnerabilities can affect any software, including Windows, but that doesn’t make them inherently dangerous to the consumer as long as they’re disclosed and then fixed in a responsible and timely manner. However, listening to the entertainment industries and those aligned with them, Kodi use presents an active and serious malware danger to the public, but one with almost zero evidence to support it. Minder himself didn’t respond to our request for elaboration but we did manage to obtain a copy of a presentation his company prepared for the Conference of Western Attorneys General detailing supposed Kodi threats. The document, dated May 2018, makes for interesting reading. Perhaps referencing the claims that Kodi malware is available on the dark web, the presentation slides show an advert discovered on the hidden ‘Dream Market’ marketplace. The advert offers subscriptions to an illicit IPTV service but it’s actually one that’s easily accessible on the regular open web. Perhaps most importantly, there is no mention of malware anywhere on the slide. Dark web IPTV but no malware [imghttps://s33.postimg.cc/n61y43xkv/groupsense1-e1528369684991.png[/img] The next slide proved interesting since it covers a topic at the start of 2018. Which revealed how some Kodi setups can be accessed by outside parties if users aren’t careful about the settings for Kodi’s web interface. While this is a known issue, this has nothing to do with malware. Finally, the last slide had this to say about Kodi and third-party Kodi addons. “Unbeknownst to the consumer these third‐party add‐ons further introduces [users] to risks such as copyright violations, malware infection, disclosure of IP address and Internet behavior, and the loss of the confidentiality of their communications,”. While it can’t be disputed that copyright violations can take place, the ever-present malware claim isn’t backed up by any publicly-available information indicating that such an event has happened more than once or twice. To put that into perspective, the AV-TEST Institute says it registers over 250,000 new malicious programs every day. Furthermore, IP addresses are always disclosed no matter what content users access online, so that point is moot too, along with the supposed issues with confidentiality of communications. However, GroupSense has more to add. “Additionally, the communication between their Kodi application and the third‐party add‐ons are unencrypted and unauthenticated meaning that an attacker can introduce malicious code into the communication stream or compromise the third‐party add‐on before the recipient (consumer) receives the data; thereby, infecting their device to incorporate into a botnet or steal privileged information such as user credentials,” the slide reads. These claims were presented to TVAddons, the world’s largest repository of third-party addons and the developer of many, past and present. They weren’t impressed with the claims. “That argument is quite the stretch. Technically the same would apply to any website you visit that doesn’t use forced-HTTPS. Almost every unofficial add-on repository is hosted through GitHub, which forces encryption,” the site said. “Kodi ‘boxes’ are used on home networks, not public Wi-Fi. By the time someone could perform a [Man-in-the-Middle] attack on your Kodi box, it would mean that they would have already had to compromise your router. If someone were to go through all that, they could likely do a lot more damage without even considering exploiting Kodi. “Furthermore, most users use Kodi on their media boxes, where little to no privileged information would be present,” the site added. Let’s be clear, every single piece of hardware and software, whether on or offline, can be exploited in some way by nefarious players or simply the curious. However, the persistent claim that Kodi users are somehow under constant malware attack isn’t borne out by any publicly available information. Indeed, one of the world’s most popular anti-piracy vendors in AVAST says they have no record of ANY Kodi-related malware. And Marius Buterchi, PR Manager at the highly-respected BitDefender, couldn’t find any specific instances either. “I just talked with the Lab guys and they told me that they actually haven’t seen any Kodi-related malware in the wild,” he said. With that, it now seems the perfect time to either put up or shut up in respect of “Kodi malware.” If there is malware out there affecting users of Kodi, security and entertainment industry companies making these claims should back them up with solid evidence because, as it stands, the horror stories seem designed to frighten the masses, rather than protect them. The benefits of full disclosure, detailing the EXACT NAMES of the malware, WHEN they were discovered and by WHOM, and what EXACTLY THEY DO, would be two-fold. Firstly, the aim of scaring people away from Kodi would have more impact, since the evidence of malware would be hard to ignore. That would be a big plus for the movie and TV industries who are quite rightly concerned about protecting their business. Secondly, and just as importantly, Kodi users could take steps to protect themselves, which should be the number one priority of any group, organization, or company that claims to be acting in the best interests of consumers and the public in general. With that in mind, we understand that the Digital Citizens Alliance will publish a new Kodi malware report in the coming weeks. Perhaps it will contain actual evidence of the malware being spoken of continuously in the media. We would certainly welcome the publication of a specific and detailed list of all malware variants in the wild which specifically target Kodi users. At that point, we can alert the major anti-virus and malware vendors who currently appear to be strangely in the dark.
  13. Amazon and other members of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment have declared 'war' on pirate streaming devices and addons. While legal threats are issued left and right, the Amazon store is ironically still stocked up with books that explain to newcomers how to install some of the same addons Amazon is fighting. Last summer saw the birth of a new anti-piracy initiative, which has already made quite a few headlines. A coalition of the major Hollywood studios, Amazon, Netflix and several other media properties teamed up, launching the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). Their ultimate goal is to beat piracy, with pirate streaming boxes as the main target. In the months that followed, several third-party Kodi-addon developers received threatening letters in the mail and on top of that ACE filed lawsuits against three vendors of alleged pirate streaming boxes. Their show of force hasn’t gone unnoticed. It triggered some developers and sellers to lay low or move out of the game entirely. At the same time, fully-loaded pirate boxes are now harder to find at ACE member Amazon, which has removed tens of thousands of listings. These boxes, which ship with a built-in media player as well as pirate addons, were not always hard to find though. In fact, Dragon Box, which is now being sued by Amazon and the others, was previously sold on Amazon. This is perhaps what prompted the company to argue as a defense that it had “Amazon’s implied authorization to promote and sell the device.” Clearly, these Dragon Boxes have now been stripped from Amazon’s inventory, but it’s still not hard to find several alleged piracy inducing items there today. For starters, there are still hundreds if not thousands of cheap media players for sale. While these may be perfectly legal, reviews of Amazon members show, sometimes with screenshots, how these can be easily set up to run pirate addons. Arguably, without 24/7 moderation this is hard to avoid. After all, people may also buy a PC on Amazon and recommend people to bookmark The Pirate Bay. Perhaps we’re nitpicking. What may be more problematic for Amazon is the widespread availability of “Kodi tutorials.” While Kodi is perfectly legal, some of these books go into detail on how to add “pirate” addons. The same tools Amazon is suing Tickbox, Set TV, and Dragon Box over. “Do you want to install Area 51 IPTV or Set TV on your Kodi and Amazon Fire TV Stick or Fire TV?” one guide mentions, referencing Set TV specifically. “Do you want to install Supremacy, Dogs Bollock, Covenant, Genesis Reborn and Neptune Rising?” it adds. One of the many Kodi guides Another book offers help on “How To Install Kodi And The Latest Downloads On Any Firestick” mentioning the addon Exodus, among others. Exodus was famously highlighted as a “pirate” addon by the MPA. And then there are books discussing how to install a wide range of addons with a “pirate” reputation, including Covenant which is specifically highlighted in the ACE lawsuits as a bad actor. None of these addons have been declared illegal in court, as far as we know, and writing about it isn’t illegal by definition. But, it is clear that Amazon itself sees these as pirate tools. This leads to the awkward situation where, on the one hand, Amazon is suing vendors who sell devices that ship with the Covenant addon, while they sell books that show people how to set this up themselves. We won’t make any judgments on whether these books or addons encourage infringement in any way, that’s not up to us. But for Amazon it’s not a good look, to say the least, especially since part of the profits for these titles go into its own pockets.
  14. Exactly a year after Canada's largest telecoms companies executed a warrant against TVAddons founder Adam Lackman, unwelcome visitors have again attended his home. After a court order to pay attorney's fees of CAD$50,000 went unsettled, bailiffs representing Bell, Rogers, and Videotron turned up at Lackman's home Wednesday in an effort to seize property. On June 2, 2017, Canadian telecoms giants including Bell Canada, Bell ExpressVu, Bell Media, Videotron, Groupe TVA, Rogers Communications and Rogers Media, filed a complaint in Federal Court against Montreal resident, Adam Lackman. Lackman is the founder of Kodi addon repository TVAddons and someone described by the telecoms companies as a serial infringer of their intellectual property rights. The companies demanded injunctions against Lackman, preventing him from developing, promoting or distributing allegedly infringing add-ons and software. The plaintiffs also requested damages and costs on top. Without Lackman being present or able to mount a defense, on June 9, 2017, the Federal Court handed down a time-limited interim injunction. Bailiffs took control of TVAddons’ domains, shutting TVAddons down. They also obtained an Anton Piller order, a civil search warrant which granted no-notice permission to enter Lackman’s premises to secure evidence. On June 12, 2017, Lackman’s home was searched against his wishes, but on June 29, 2017, a judge decided that Lackman had been mistreated. The Anton Piller order was vacated and the application for interlocutory injunction was dismissed. The plaintiffs took this decision to appeal during November 2017. A three-judge panel handed down its decision February 2018, effectively turning the earlier ruling on its head. The telecoms companies emerged victorious with the Anton Piller order and interim injunctions declared legal. As the image below shows, Lackman was also told to pay the telecoms companies attorney’s fees of CAD$50,000. Yesterday, just one day after the anniversary of the original search of Lackman’s home, representatives of the plaintiffs were back again to carry out yet another search. “Bell, Rogers, and Videotron showed up once again to force their way into our founder’s home,” TVAddons said in a statement. “They had a court order that allowed them to search through anything and everything, in order to mark down things of value which would be sold to repay the debt.” Lackman said he could find no deadline dates on the order issued by the court and believed he had much more time to tackle the issue. “I didn’t think they expected to be paid prior to the conclusion of the [full] lawsuit,” Lackman said. “I’ve already been forced to fundraise in order to defend myself, they have seized millions worth of property (domains, social media) and destroyed my only source of revenue already. Harassing me to pay them when I don’t even have money to pay my own lawyers is really disruptive to my general well being.” But surely the TVAddons founder was given notice that the monies were due and a visit was imminent? Not so, he insists. “Other than the appeal judgment, I had not heard from them since. I had no clue they could even show up again. How could I expect that collections would begin while the entire lawsuit on the actual merits (the only important part) is still ahead?” he said. But turn up they did. Yesterday morning three bailiffs working for Smart & Biggar Fetherstonhaugh on behalf of Bell, Rogers, and Videotron arrived at Lackman’s home and made their presence known. “As soon as I opened my door, one of the bailiffs put his foot in it and said that they had the right to enter. I called my lawyer who told me I should comply with their demands,” Lackman says. “One of the bailiffs appeared to be there for ‘muscle.’ The other bailiff was extremely aggressive, even asking me to show them copies of my invoices with lawyers. And the third bailiff (who seemed to be in charge, he was also part of the original seizure last year) was a bit harsh, but it seemed like he was just trying to do his job.” Lackman says the visit wasn’t particularly fruitful. The bailiffs found a laptop and “two near worthless” prints on his wall. The goods will be sold at auction come July 31 unless Lackman can either come up with the funds (now CAD$57,500, up from the original CAD$50,000) or get a court to suspend the action. But for a man with no money, it’s a catch-22 situation. “I am hoping that we will be able to get a sort of stay of proceedings on the collections, at least until the court hears the merits of the lawsuit at trial. The problem is that the goods they are going to seize probably aren’t even worth what it will cost to return to Federal Court. They’re trying to ruin me,” Lackman adds. With Lackman’s back up against the wall, he’s still relying on well-wishers to help bail him out. However, the case is already a year old with many thousands spent in legal fees and no end in sight. When or if a trial on the merits will ever take place is still anyone’s guess but with powerful deep-pocketed adversaries, there’s a possibility that Lackman might be worn down without ever having had his day in court “If they are going to harass me on an ongoing basis for every little thing I have (such as my laptop), I’ll have no chance of ever being able to fight the merits, which is what they want,” he concludes.
  15. A popular Kodi addon that provided access to one of the very best sources of Japanese anime and Asian entertainment has been withdrawn from the public. The Crunchyroll addon facilitated access to the service of the same name, provided users already had a legitimate subscription. But now the addon is history, after Crunchyroll claimed it reverse engineered its code in bad faith. The ever-popular Kodi media center is in the press every week, usually due to complaints from the entertainment industries that it poses a threat to their businesses. Nevertheless, enthusiasts know that Kodi has plenty of other uses, not least that it can bring the consumption of legal content under one roof. Through the use of innovative addons that are not designed to infringe copyright, Kodi users can enjoy many legitimate services without having to leave the Kodi platform. For the majority of services accessed in this manner, Kodi users are a welcome addition. However, it’s clear that not all companies are happy with people using unconventional consumption routes, even when they’re already paying to access a platform. The latest case involves Crunchyroll, an online video service that has built a reputation for offering the best in Japanese anime and Asian entertainment. For a fee, Crunchyroll is accessible via a wide range of devices from iOS, Android and Windows, to Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, and gaming consoles. Until recently it was also available, albeit unofficially, via a dedicated Kodi addon. Users needed to have a premium subscription already, so piracy wasn’t a factor. However, the company has now flexed its considerable muscles and forced its creators to withdraw it from the public on copyright grounds. In an email sent to development platform Github, anti-piracy outfit Remove Your Media explained that it is authorized to act on behalf of Crunchyroll and that the addon was infringing the video company’s rights. “The works in question is copyrighted source code developed by CrunchyRoll Inc. Code has been reversed engineered, in bad faith, to disrupt owner’s rights,” the email reads. “I have a good faith belief that the items or materials listed below are not authorized by the above owners, their agents or the law and therefore infringe the owner’s rights. Please act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the infringing material.” What followed was a list of URLs operated by two Github users – Yoshiofthewire and MattRK. All are now unavailable after the repos were deleted. Writing on the official Crunchyroll and Kodi forums, Yoshiofthewire explained that if only he’d been asked directly, he would’ve taken the addons down. Instead, he was compelled to take action after Github received a complaint directly. “It is with a heavy heart that I report that the Kodi (XBMC) plugin to view Crunchyroll has been hit with a DMCA take down,” Yoshiofthewire wrote. “Over the 4 years of its existence it was used by (as of 2016) 5000 monthly active PAYING users. I stress the Paying part because the version that was taken down, mostly unchanged since 2016, required a paid subscription.” Noting that the addon worked in exactly the same way as the existing Crunchyroll app, Yoshiofthewire noted that no additional functionality was available. “While I feel the take down was in bad faith, if I was contacted I would have removed the plugin,” he said. According to information made available by Github, Crunchyroll’s complaint targeted a subset of code made available on the addon’s repository, not the whole thing. “In this case only certain files were identified as allegedly infringing,” Github told Yoshiofthewire. “Since it’s not possible to disable individual files within a GitHub repository, we’re giving you a 24 hour opportunity to remove the content named in the takedown.” That was enough to kill the project. Instead of fighting, Yoshiofthewire deleted the repository. The news was met with disappointment on the official Kodi forums, but over on Crunchyroll, the mood was even more critical. “It’s reassuring to see Crunchyroll caring about its paying customers by not fixing their apps in years, and by DMCA’ing an app extension that actually worked,” one user wrote. “Well, about time I cancel my premium for end of the payment period then,” added another. “The Kodi addon worked for me better than the official apps/website, especially under Linux, and was in fact the very reason I even considered premium. Not much reason to continue with it for me any longer.” In response to the critics, one user pointed former addon fans to Vrv.co, which apparently has an improved official player. However, according to Yoshiofthewire, that too has its issues. “If we have to use the [Crunchyroll] app or the VRV app, can you fix it so the login doesn’t break once a month?” he asked. Whether the unofficial addon will raise its head elsewhere will remain to be seen, but in the meantime, it will be missed by those who used it alongside their paid subscriptions.