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How three companies are bringing communal living into major cities

Finding housing sucks. Finding housing in a bustling city like New York or Boston sucks even more. Between the multiple wait lists and long application times, a newcomer to the city is probably going to have a pretty difficult time getting settled into a place in any reasonable amount of time. Now imagine trying to do all of this as an intern or a young professional on a budget – it can all be pretty intimidating. Thankfully, there are some companies out there that are working on a solution to this problem and are using co-living spaces to help streamline…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Spaceflight Industries issues $150 million investment offer amid high-flying plans

Black Sky satellites
An artist’s conception shows Black Sky’s imaging satellites in orbit. (Black Sky Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries is seeking as much as $150 million in new investment as it gets ready for a key rocket launch and a dramatic expansion of its satellite presence.

The outlines of the offering are described in documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing reports that $40,656,523 worth of securities have been sold, with $110 mlllion remaining to sell. The first sale was recorded on Oct. 19, according to the filing.

This offering isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill funding round. The filing says the total amount includes a $60 million convertible debt facility and $50 million in capital stock, the sale of which is subject to regulatory approval.

The $40 million sold so far includes more than $15 million in capital stock issued pursuant to the conversion of convertible notes, according to the Form D documents.

Spaceflight Industries told GeekWire that it couldn’t disclose any additional information at this time, “due to the nature of the deal and the parties involved.”

The company’s backers include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital Management, RRE Venture Capital and Razor’s Edge Ventures. Last year, Spaceflight Industries conducted a $25 million Series B financing round.

This September, it struck up a partnership with the Space Alliance, a venture involving Europe’s Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio. As part of the deal, Thales Alenia and Telespazio pledged to make a minority investment in Spaceflight Industries, and it’s likely that the offering reported today pertains at least in part to that pledge.

Spaceflight Industries has two main lines of business. One division, Spaceflight, focuses on launch services and mission management for rideshare payloads. The payloads go up on other companies’ rockets, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9, India’s PSLV and Orbital ATK’s Antares.

The other division, Black Sky, is building a constellation of Earth-observing satellites and a software platform that would let customers acquire low-cost imagery from orbit in as little as 90 minutes. The first prototype Black Sky satellite was launched a year ago, and 60 satellites are due to go into orbit by 2020.

Both lines of business are going strong: Last month, Spaceflight won a $5.5 million NASA contract for nanosatellite launches over the next three years. In August, Black Sky made a $16.4 million deal with the Air Force for the development of a customized, cloud-based geospatial intelligence platform.

Spaceflight Industries also has had to deal with delays: Spaceflight’s dedicated SSO-A rideshare mission on a Falcon 9, which is designed to deploy scores of satellites into orbit, has been pushed off until next year, largely due to a schedule slips on SpaceX’s part. Meanwhile, a PSLV launch mishap in August put a crimp in the launch schedules for Spaceflight as well as Black Sky.

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Bugged by budget cuts, state aerospace chief John Thornquist says he’s ‘moving on’

John Thornquist at Chinook Enterprises
John Thornquist, the director of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, visits Chinook Enterprises in Mount Vernon, Wash., in August 2016. (Chinook Enterprises Photo)

The head of Washington state’s Office of Aerospace, John Thornquist, says he’s returning to the private sector next month due to frustrations over state budget cuts.

“I’m not trying to leave in a huff,” said Thornquist, who was named to the post by Gov. Jay Inslee 19 months ago. “I loved the job that we were doing for aerospace, but things have moved on, and I’m moving on.”

Thornquist said he tendered his resignation a couple of weeks ago, and will be leaving his job in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, or OEDC, on Dec. 8 after tying up loose ends.

After a weekend off, he’ll start his new job as director of consulting services for Bellevue, Wash.-based Cascade Business Group. Thornquist said he’ll continue to focus on aerospace as well as the software and retail industries.

Thornquist said the OEDC has been hard-hit by budget reductions over the past few years. Most recently, the funding for international trade assistance has been reduced by 60 percent, he said.

“You get frustrated with the Legislature, and opportunities come up, and you say, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s time to make a change,’” he told GeekWire.

Washington state’s aerospace industry is in the midst of a series of significant transitions. On the space side, relatively new companies such as SpaceX, Spaceflight Industries and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are raising their profile in the state. At the same time, traditional aerospace employers such as the Boeing Co. are facing new competitive challenges.

Boeing’s workforce in Washington state has had to weather significant layoffs during Thornquist’s tenure, and there could be tough negotiations ahead as the aerospace giant mulls production of a new middle-of-the-market airplane known unofficially as the 797.

“As a state, we have to make sure that we protect the aerospace jobs that we have,” Thornquist said. He noted that the aerospace industry’s family-wage jobs are the envy of many other states, and “they would love to take those jobs from us.”

Thornquist’s departure was first reported by Puget Sound Business Journal, which quoted Inslee’s office as saying that the Department of Commerce is looking at candidates to fill his spot.

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‘Mr. Robot’ Rewind: Finding Dark Army’s Exploits in Episode 4

Elliot (Rami Malek) and Darlene (Carly Chaikin) in Season 3, Episode 4 of Mr. Robot. (USA Network Photo)

 [Spoiler Alert] This article deeply analyzes the technical details of the latest Mr. Robot episode (Eps3.3_m3tadata.par2). If you haven’t watched it, I suggest you come back later.

LATEST IN A SERIES: Corey Nachreiner, CTO at Seattle-based WatchGuard Technologies, is reviewing episodes of Mr. Robot on GeekWire. The show airs on USA Network on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Join the conversation on Twitter using #MrRobotRewind, and follow Corey @SecAdept.

If you love Mr. Robot as much as I do, you already know that almost every hack you see is pretty accurate (with a few exceptions). However, the show often flashes these hack details in very quick shots, that only eagle-eyed nerds might catch and obsess over. In this Mr. Robot Rewind article series, I dissect the technical and hack-related details of the show, sharing what the writers got right, and sometimes where they messed up. While this last episode wasn’t hack-rich, like the first two, it did contain plenty of information security details worthy of discussion. So, let’s take a look.

Dumpster Diving for Metadata

After a small, but somewhat disturbing scene with Darlene on the subway, this week’s episode takes off where last week’s ended, with Elliot finding the address of the “adversary” who hacked his monitor.

Elliot still doesn’t know who this adversary is (the FBI, via Darlene), but to find out he resorts to an old-school hacker trick—dumpster diving.

While the term “dumpster diving” has a pedestrian definition of just going through the trash to find useful stuff, it also has a more hacker-focused definition as well. Hackers use dumpster diving for reconnaissance, to find out more information about their target. Whether you know it or not, there is a lot of direct and indirect information about you in your trash. Your name on letters, who you correspond with, addresses, the products you use, and so forth. In the past, hackers have even found badly erased hard drives that they could recover.

Elliot shared this concept with us while digging through the mail and trash at the address he found:

“Metadata. The story behind the data. Getting information is one thing, but how it was created, where, by whom, can often be illuminating.”

Figure 1: Elliot “dumpster dives” for metadata.

As mentioned, trash can and did supply Elliot with plenty of metadata to draw conclusions from, and helped him realize that he’d found Darlene’s apartment. However, you should also realize that your digital explorations leave a trail of metadata as well. While the phone company may not record your conversations, they have logs of every phone call you’ve made, who they were to, and how long they lasted. If you go to a site on the Internet normally, you share your IP address, often the type of computer you use, your browser type, and sometimes other information stored in a web cookie. If you upload a picture, the device you took it with may have added a lot of additional information, including GPS coordinates, in that picture. I’ve talked about this concept in a past article, when discussing Fsociety’s Vimeo video uploads.

In short, metadata is important. If you care about privacy, you should realize how much others can indirectly learn about you from your metadata. When you hear of governments stockpiling metadata, but telling you it’s not that big a deal, remember that enough metadata can help smart adversaries figure out who you are.

In any case, this short scene where Elliot goes through the trash to learn about his target is just one of the many realistic examples of how hackers work that make this show so accurate.

Picking Darlene’s Lock

Another small, yet accurate detail was Elliot picking the lock to Darlene’s door.

Figure 2: Elliot the lock picker.

As I’ve mentioned before, lock picking is a pretty core element to hacker culture. The skills used to solve mechanical puzzles often relate to the skills used to crack digital codes, or at least the interest to do so. Also, hacking may sometimes require physical access to technology, in which case some hackers want to learn to defeat physical safe guards too. Again, a little detail, but one that totally relates to hacker culture.

Confusing Bugs with Audio Jammers

When confronting Darlene, Elliot puts a small device on the counter that created white noise. We’ve seen him use it before this season, but I never commented on it simply because I figured this type of device is recognizable enough that most people known it’s perfectly real. That said, since this was a hack-light episode, I figured I’d point it out.

Figure 3: Elliot’s audio jamming device.

This device is an audio jammer, and one specifically designed to obscure human speech from listening devices. They do exist in reality, and here is one that looks similar to what Elliot uses. You can also find sites that will turn your computer into an audio jammer, and even mobile apps that can do it. Also, these devices are perfectly legal to use.

In short, this is accurate tradecraft for someone worried about folks listening in. I guess the only question here is why Elliot would waste money buying an expensive version of it, when he could just use his mobile phone. That said, the efficacy of these devices probably has a lot to do with the quality of their speakers. So perhaps a mobile phone speaker wasn’t good enough for his purposes.

Dark Army Pwns E Corp’s Apache Struts Shipping Web App

This brings us to the only real hack this episode (or at least the evidence of a past hack).

After confronting Darlene, Elliot brings her to his apartment and tells her what he has learned about the Stage 2 hack, which he agrees was not called off. During this scene, we see a short shot of his screen.

Figure 4: Elliot discovered the Dark Army’s (Mr. Robots) Struts hack.

Before I dive into this screen shot, let me remind you of my season premiere article, where I said Mr. Robot is targeting Apache Tomcat. Furthermore, I mentioned how the recent Equifax hack involved Apache Struts. Well, both packages have proven relevant to this episode’s hacking reveal.

The first thing you notice on this screen is the Apache Tomcat Web Application Manager. Apache Tomcat is basically a web server for hosting Java apps. Based on the URL (which really works), it looks like this server is used to manage web applications related to E Corp’s Ecoin services. You should also remember that Mr. Robot (Elliot’s alternate personality) used Shodan to try and find any E Corp servers using Tomcat.

The second, and likely most important thing I noticed was what looks like a terminal window. Actually, this is a VIM window. If you’re not familiar with it, VIM is a common *nix text editor. It appears Elliot has opened a Tomcat log file associated with the Ecoin service server, to see what visitors have been doing.

In the VIM window, you quickly notice some GET requests to Struts2 resources. Struts is a framework for developing Java applications you might have on a Tomcat server, and was the package I previously mentioned had been targeted in the recent, real-world Equifax hack.

Looking at the GET requests to this server, you quickly notice some interesting ones that seem to use a “redirect:” parameter. With some Google searching, I quickly found this serious Struts remote code execution vulnerability (CVE-2013-2251). Basically, by crafting parameters using the “action:”, “redirect:”, and “redirectaction:” prefixes, remote attackers could exploit this flaw to execute arbitrary expressions. This is what Mr. Robot and the Dark Army must have used to gain remote access to E Corp’s server and networks. In fact, you can easily find publicly accessible Metasploit exploits for this vulnerability.

As it turns out, I could have found which vulnerability Mr. Robot and the Dark Army used much quicker and easier if I had just paid a little more attention to other aspects of that screen shot. If you look closely, there is another window behind the Apache Tomcat window. That URL points specifically to Apache’s write-up for this specific vulnerability, which they call S2-016. Wish I had seen that before doing my research.

As you can tell, this is another example of the show using very accurate hacks and even real-world vulnerabilities. This particular hack seems especially timely, because of the Equifax breach. Do know, it’s technically a different Struts vulnerability than the one the Equifax hackers used, but it’s still very similar. If there’s any issue with this hack, it’s the fact that E Corp’s Tomcat and Struts server is still vulnerable to a serious two-year-old flaw. We know the show takes place in 2015, but this vulnerability was reported in 2013. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this scene unrealistic. The truth is, there are many big corporations out there that are very late patching their services. So, it’s not that unusual for a big company to suffer from old flaws.

For extra credit, let me share a few other small asides from this screen shot. First, notice Elliot is logged into his desktop as “root,” just like Tyrell did last episode. Come on show runners!?! Elliot would know better than to do that! Also, this show is usually great with little details, such as using a period accurate 2015 version of Linuxmint. However, this screen says it’s Friday the 19th. In 2015, I believe this Friday fell on the 18th. Mistake, or hidden clue? I presume the former.

Subpoenas to Track IP Addresses

The final scene worth noting is when Dom, the attractive FBI agent, caught the Dark Army stooge that posted the last “fake” Fsociety video. In her interrogation scene, she says, “With a court order, we got the Vimeo connection logs for the account you used, which led us to your IP address and then your home address.”

If you wondered if this is an accurate description of a law enforcement technique for finding cyber criminals, it is. They can and have subpoenaed this information from Internet services in the past. Anything you upload does tie to your address, and the government can get court orders to find out which IP addresses were involved. If you don’t hide your IP address, this will tie to your ISP provider, who likely knows where you live. This has happened in many cases before, like when the government subpoenaed Google for YouTube records. How quickly law enforcement can get the subpoena is probably the only thing up for debate in this scene.

As an aside, the only plot-related strangeness to this scene is why the Dark Army let it happen. Most hackers, like Fsociety, know that governments can track down uploading IPs. That’s why in past episodes, Mobley and Fsociety worked hard to scrub the metadata from their videos, and likely upload via VPNs and Tor to mask their true location. Dark Army operatives are presumably smart enough to do the same thing. So why did the Dark Army guy upload his video without the same precautions? It’s almost like he was asking to get caught. Maybe we will learn more later.

Easter Eggs and odds ‘n’ ends

That covers the hacks, and technical details, but let me share some other thoughts and fun secrets from this week’s episode:

  • As always, the show had a lot of hidden sites. You can find both an IP address and URL in the Struts screen shot above, that both go to interesting places. One is a Dark Army operative’s computer, and the other is E Corp’s Tomcat Ecoin server. You can also access the login page for E Corp’s shipping site from other screens shown this episode (can you guess the login? Others haven’t).
  • If you do go to the Dark Army computer, it includes a couple of pictures, such as a Dark Army mask, which was weirdly pixelated despite its huge resolution. This picture held a secret, Alice in Wonderland-related quote. See the picture below for a spoiler. (Shout out to the /r/ARGSociety for finding this).

    Figure 5: Hidden message from a picture found on a show site.

  • If you follow the ARG game going along with this show, you should always update the site after an episode. Among other things, this site now has E Corp’s new strong password policy document, which is slightly amusing considering Elliot’s hacks. This document also contains other references to past episodes, that may or may not be clues to other things.
  • I did skip a scene where we see Darlene torrenting a movie called Shazaam with Sinbad. Besides the fact that Darlene pirating movies fits hacker culture, this movie does not exist in reality. The actual movie was called Kazaam with Shaq. This is another example of the Mandela effect, which the show has referenced before with the Berenstain project. Some believe this may be another reference to parallel universes (a theory I don’t want to be correct).

    Figure 6: Darlene pirates non-existent movies. Mandela effect?

  • I expect the excrement to hit the propeller next episode… it will be a big one. We have Irving pretending with Tyrell that Joanna is alive, Elliot seeing Angela with Tyrell then getting drugged, Angela sparking Price’s curiosity about Elliot, and Darlene potentially disappearing. I think we’ll see at least some of these unresolved plot points explode next week.

Learning from Robot: Clean Your Metadata?

Between Elliot digging in the trash, and Dom catching the Fsociety faker through a video upload, hopefully you are convinced that metadata isn’t just worthless excess, but potentially sensitive information that could tell people more about you than you want them to know. If you learn anything from this episode, just be cognizant of the digital fingerprints you leave online, no matter what you do. For instance, before uploading a picture, perhaps consider whether or not your geo location might be embedded in that picture, and remove it if it is. Finally, as governments or businesses try to convince you that all metadata should be public record, weigh in on that debate. If you want to protect privacy, you should also protect your metadata.

Thanks again for joining me for another Mr. Robot hackuracy review this week. I hope you learned something new, interesting and applicable to your own online privacy and security. As always, I look forward to your comments, theories and feedback below, and don’t forget to join us again for next week’s Mr. Robot Rewind!

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Jeff Bezos sells more than $1 billion in Amazon stock

Jeff Bezos
The future looks even brighter for Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos.
(GeekWire Photo)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sold more than 1 million shares of company stock in the past three days, worth nearly $1.1 billion, according to a regulatory filing this afternoon.

The stock sale comes a week after the company crushed earnings expectations for the third quarter, sending its shares soaring to a record high and giving Bezos the title of world’s richest person. Amazon shares are up more than 16 percent over the past month, closing today at $1,111.60.

The filing notes that the sale was made pursuant to a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan, which allows company insiders to sell a predetermined amount of stock at a set time, to avoid the appearance of insider trading.

Bezos previously sold about $1 billion in shares this past May. He still owns 78.9 million shares of Amazon stock, or about 16 percent of the company.

Bezos said this past April that he sells “about $1 billion per year” of Amazon stock to help fund his Blue Origin space venture.

Here’s a chart showing the latest stock sales, from news alert service Sqoop.

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Where does consciousness come from? Brain scientist closes in on the claustrum

"Crown of Thorns" neurons
A digital 3-D reconstruction shows a handful of neurons that wrap around a mouse’s brain and are connected to a sheet of brain cells known as the claustrum. (Allen Institute for Brain Science)

SAN FRANCISCO — For decades, neuroscientist Christof Koch has been searching for the seat of consciousness — a quest that has taken him deep within the brains of mice, and to the doorstep of the Dalai Lama.

Now the president and chief scientific officer of Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science is closing in on a big part of the answer in a small part of the brain.

The part in question is known as the claustrum, a thin, irregular sheet of neurons that’s found in each hemisphere of the brain, underneath the cortex.

Koch and the late biologist Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix structure, took note of the claustrum more than a decade ago — but it’s taken that long for experimental techniques to progress to the point where neuroscientists can literally shed light on how the claustrum and its network of connected neurons work.

“It connects to every point of the cortex, bidirectionally,” Koch said Oct. 27 at the World Conference of Science Journalists in San Francisco. “Crick and I hypothesized that the function of the claustrum is to do something like consciousness. In a sense, it acts like the conductor of the cortical symphony.”

Christof Koch describes claustrum
Christof Koch, chief scientific officer and president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, describes the sheetlike structure of the claustrum while a slide showing its location is displayed. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Mouse studies have shown that a mere handful of long, branching neurons are connected to the claustrum and project into the cortex like a “crown of thorns,” Koch said.

The Allen Institute has gone so far as to put tiny cameras and microscopes directly into the brains of genetically engineered mice, to track how the claustrum and its neuronal networks light up as the mice go about their business. Koch showed off a video clip with flashes of activity.

“At the same time as the mouse is moving, you’re looking at a living claustrum neuron,” Koch told the audience. “You can see what it does now as it moves around and sniffs and does its thing.”

Does that mean that mice are conscious? Koch says yes. He calls himself a “panpsychist,” and suspects that there’s a spectrum of consciousness rather than a sharp division between humans and other animals.

In Koch’s view, the difference between mice and humans is like the difference between a 1970s-era Atari 2600 video console and an iPhone. Both compute, but an Atari 2600 can’t talk back at you. Siri can.

Now experimenters are trying to turn the claustrum on and off in mice to see what happens, Koch said.

To move from mice to humans, the Allen Institute is making use of computer modeling as well as experiments with living tissue taken from human patients in the course of brain surgery.

Experimenting with brains while humans are using them is highly limited, for obvious ethical reasons. Koch did note one episode in which accidental stimulation of the claustrum put an epilepsy patient into a zombie-like state. When the electrode was turned off, the patient had no memory of the intervening time.


Allen Institute president and chief scientific officer Christof Koch speaks to the World Conference of Science Journalists

Posted by Alan Boyle on Friday, October 27, 2017

There are likely to be more insights ahead, and more ethical quandaries to deal with, as researchers work on artificially grown masses of human brain cells in the lab.

“Information theory says yes, this piece of cortex will feel like something,” Koch said. “It may feel very different. Because it doesn’t have an eye and an ear, it’s very unclear what it’s going to be conscious of. But in principle, this thing will experience something. … When you have these cortical organoids, and it gets big enough and complex enough in its electrical activity, we have to start thinking about it: Is this thing in pain?”

Is consciousness merely an emergent phenomenon that arises as the cortex chugs through all the sensory information it’s processing? Koch doesn’t think so, and for evidence, he refers to the lessons he learned from the Dalai Lama over the past several years.

“If you do what Buddhists call pure experience or naked awareness, or content-less experience, you’re conscious,” Koch said. “The meditator is conscious without having any specific content.”

So is consciousness something that transcends the physical realm? On that score, Koch differs with the Dalai Lama. He recalled a recent meeting during which the exiled Tibetan religious leader asked him whether neuroscience could lend support to the concept of reincarnation.

“There are four words you can say: ‘No brain, never mind,’” Koch said. “In other words, there has to be a physical mechanism in order for there to be consciousness. It has to be expressed in something physical. It may be something weird — quarks, it may be granularity of space itself, LIGO — but there has to be some mechanism.”

So how did the Dalai Lama react?

“He just smiled,” Koch said.

For more about Koch and his views on AI, consciousness and the brain, check out our report about his presentation at the GeekWire Summit, Koch’s op-ed article for The Wall Street Journal and his cover story for the November issue of Scientific American.

Geekwire’s Alan Boyle is president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, one of the organizers of the World Conference of Science Journalists.

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Today on Jewcy: A look at the two films bookending this year’s showcase of movies representing the ‘rest’ of Israel.

This marks the eleventh year of the Other Israel Film Festival, presented by the JCC Manhattan, which features films that showcase minority populations in Israel. Most of the selections are documentaries, including Desert Wounds, which follows Sudanese refugees in Israel, and The Field, which explores the Palestinian Center for Nonviolence, which hosts regular conversations between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. These films tackle hard questions about the complexities of life in Israel, and often their conclusions don’t present the country in anything resembling a positive light. Two narrative films, however, serving as the opening and closing night films of this year’s festival, have both made quite a splash for their portrayals of a segment of Israeli society that can function alongside the more mainstream Jewish population.

Click here to read the full post on Jewcy.

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My Path to Conversion Started with ‘Masada’

Earlier this fall, I spent my first High Holy Days as a Jew. Admittedly, my Days of Awe were sometimes days of befuddlement, as I tried to figure out where in the prayer book everyone else was, whether an emailed atonement to the ex was less sincere and more a passive aggressive criticism of her motivations for leaving me, and why I was the only person wearing white on Yom Kippur— leading to a brief fashion-fret as to whether or not I’d got the days mixed-up.

But they were also the days that reminded me why I became a Jew in the first place and why, from the moment I emerged for the final time from the waters of the Mikvah, I felt the peace of coming home and the pride of knowing that home is mine.

Continue reading “My Path to Conversion Started with ‘Masada'” at…

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