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Boeing finds two serious problems with Starliner just weeks before launch

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 15:55
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft jettisons the heat shield before it lands in 2019.

Enlarge / The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft jettisons the heat shield before it lands in 2019. (credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

A Boeing official said Thursday that the company was "standing down" from an attempt to launch the Starliner spacecraft on July 21 to focus on recently discovered issues with the vehicle.

Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for Starliner, said two spacecraft problems were discovered before Memorial Day weekend and that the company spent the holiday investigating them. After internal discussions that included Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun, the company decided to delay the test flight that would carry NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station.

"Safety is always our top priority, and that drives this decision," Nappi said during a teleconference with reporters.

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Motorola makes its 4th-gen foldable, the Moto Razr+, official

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 15:24

After endless leaks, Motorola made its fourth-generation lineup of foldables official today. The flagship is the Moto Razr+, which will launch in the US on June 23 for $999. There's also a cheaper phone called only the "Moto Razr" with a smaller outside screen, slower SoC, and no clear US price or release date. Internationally, these phones are called the Moto Razr 40 Ultra and Moto Razr 40.

The Ultra model's SoC is a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1—that's not the best you can get from Qualcomm, which would be the 8 Gen 2—this is a year-old mid-cycle upgrade chip. The phone has 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 3800 mAh battery with 30 W quick charging. The leaked display specs have been all over the place, but officially, the interior display is a 6.9-inch, 2640×1080 OLED that runs at a smoking 165 Hz. The exterior display is super big on the Ultra model and is a 3.6-inch, 144 Hz OLED at a nearly square 1066×1056. Motorola has the phone's dust and water ingress protection rated at IP52, which typically only protects from "direct sprays of water up to 15 degrees from the vertical" and is far from qualifying the Razr as a water-resistant phone.

The design has been better. The original foldable Moto Razr reboot from 2020 had beautiful throwback looks that screamed "Moto Razr." It looked just like the old-school flip phone from the early 2000s but modernized. This fourth foldable generation tones things down a lot and is more of a generic rectangle. You could easily confuse it for Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip.

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Dangerous brain abscesses spiked in US kids as COVID restrictions dropped

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 14:45
An MRI image of a brain with an abscess causing seizures.

Enlarge / An MRI image of a brain with an abscess causing seizures. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

As pandemic restrictions eased, pediatricians around the country saw alarming upticks of rare brain abscesses in children under 18 years old, with national cases steeply climbing to a peak in December 2022. That's according to two studies led by researchers and health officials, which were published together Thursday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Even at the height of the unusual surge, the brain infections remained rare overall, and the latest data suggests cases are on the decline. But, the infections are serious and potentially life-threatening. They occur when bacteria, viruses, or fungi enter the brain and an encapsulated area forms around the germs and pus. Bacteria, particularly Streptococcus, appeared to be the main culprit in the recent rise.

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NASA panel: No convincing evidence for extraterrestrial life connected with UAPs

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 14:08
A video still of NASA's UAP team meeting on May 31, 2023.

Enlarge / A video still of NASA's UAP team meeting on May 31, 2023. (credit: NASA)

On Wednesday, members of the NASA advisory board tasked with studying unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) held its first public meeting, debuting its plan for how it would proceed with a report it is scheduled to write this year. Among many topics discussed, several of its members (and NASA officials) stressed that they were not specifically undertaking a hunt for aliens.

"I want to emphasize this loud and proud that there is absolutely no convincing evidence for extraterrestrial life associated with UAPs," said Dan Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Evans is responsible for orchestrating the study on UAP.

During the four-hour meeting, which was livestreamed on the web, the team said that insufficient data and stigma about the topic remain significant barriers to uncovering the nature of UAPs. Panel chairman David Spergel remarked that the team's role was "not to resolve the nature of these events" but to create a road map for NASA that could potentially guide future inquiries into the topic.

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Pentagon buying Starlink dishes for Ukraine after funding dispute with SpaceX

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 13:04
A Starlink satellite dish sits on the ground in Ukraine.

Enlarge / Starlink satellite dish seen on September 25, 2022 in Izyum, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (credit: Getty Images | Yasuyoshi Chiba)

The US Defense Department confirmed today that it is buying Starlink satellite broadband service for use in Ukraine.

"We continue to work with a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the satellite and communication capabilities they need. Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine's overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type," the Defense Department said in a statement provided to Ars and other media outlets today.

The Pentagon said it would not provide other details about contracts, capabilities, or partners because of "operational security reasons and due to the critical nature of these systems." According to a Bloomberg report, the deal includes Starlink satellite terminals and services to be used by the Ukraine military.

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Google Assistant kills off support for third-party note apps

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 12:16
The lettering "Hey Google" on the Google pavilion at the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas in 2018. These words activate Google Assistant, Google's virtual personal assistant.

Enlarge / The lettering "Hey Google" on the Google pavilion at the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas in 2018. These words activate Google Assistant, Google's virtual personal assistant. (credit: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance)

The deprioritized Google Assistant is losing yet another feature. This time Google is killing off support for third-party note integration. The popular Android note-taking app AnyList announced the change, saying that "Google is shutting down the Google Assistant Notes & Lists integration for non-Google apps on June 20, 2023." Google's support page has since been updated confirming that, "starting June 20th, Google Assistant notes and lists will no longer work with non-Google list apps."

One of the best Assistant commands lets you dictate notes directly into the voice system, letting you create reminders, shopping lists, or just new, plain-format notes. Exactly where these notes land has been a point of contention over the years. They used to land in Google Keep no matter what, but then in 2017 Google blew up that functionality and forces all shopping notes into "Google Express," Google's Amazon Prime competitor. As someone who often used the shopping list for groceries, having it tied to an online store that I had no intention of ever using was pretty silly. Even if you didn't mind the change, which essentially turned your notes into an ad for Google's shopping site, the note-taking features got a major downgrade, going from the fully featured Google Keep app to Google Express' barely there web app.

In 2019, presumably after forced Google Express integration didn't juice the services numbers, the Google Assistant got another note-taking revamp, this time allowing users to pick whatever note-taking app they wanted from the Assistant settings. Google Keep,, AnyList, and Bring were all available at launch, and the Assistant would seamlessly dump your notes into your preferred app and even allow you to update them by voice. It was a great system, but now that's going away, too. Google tells 9to5Google that Google Keep will keep working—it seemingly plugged into the same system as third parties—but all those third-party apps are being cut off.

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Meta beats Apple to the mixed-reality punch with $499 Quest 3 coming this fall

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 12:02

Meta has lifted the lid on its Quest 3 headset. Starting at $499 for 128GB, the device aims to push users beyond virtual reality, carrying a heightened focus on mixed reality. We're not getting full details until the Meta Connect event on September 27. But Mark Zuckerberg and friends were happy to preview the headset today, four days before Apple kicks off its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where it's expected to reveal its own mixed-reality headset.

Quest 3 specs: What we know so far

Whether you heard it on Meta's blog, Facebook, or Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's own Instagram, we now have the broad strokes of the next Quest, which Meta says it'll release sometime this fall.

Meta is promising a 40 percent slimmer optic profile compared to the Quest 2, discounting any facial inserts.

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FTC: Amazon/Ring workers illegally spied on users of home security cameras

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 10:46
Two Amazon Ring cameras sitting on a table.

Enlarge / Amazon Ring indoor cameras displayed during an event at company headquarters in Seattle on September 25, 2019. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

A Federal Trade Commission lawsuit filed yesterday accused Ring, the home security camera company owned by Amazon, of invading users' privacy by "allowing thousands of employees and contractors to watch video recordings of customers' private spaces."

Until September 2017, every employee of Ring and a Ukraine-based contractor had access to customer videos, which were stored without encryption, the FTC said. "Ring gave every employee—as well as hundreds of Ukraine-based third-party contractors—full access to every customer video, regardless of whether the employee or contractor actually needed that access to perform his or her job function," the FTC said.

Violations did not stop in 2017 despite new access controls, according to the lawsuit, which alleges privacy invasions both before and after Amazon bought Ring in 2018. The FTC's lawsuit in US District Court for the District of Columbia also alleged that Ring failed to promptly implement basic privacy and security protections, making it easier for hackers to take over customers' accounts and cameras. A settlement that is pending a judge's approval would require Ring to pay $5.8 million for customer refunds, delete certain types of data, and implement privacy and security controls. Amazon did not admit any wrongdoing.

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“Clickless” iOS exploits infect Kaspersky iPhones with never-before-seen malware

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 10:25
“Clickless” iOS exploits infect Kaspersky iPhones with never-before-seen malware


Moscow-based security firm Kaspersky has been hit by an advanced cyberattack that used clickless exploits to infect the iPhones of several dozen employees with malware that collects microphone recordings, photos, geolocation, and other data, company officials said.

“We are quite confident that Kaspersky was not the main target of this cyberattack,” Eugene Kaspersky, founder of the company, wrote in a post published on Thursday. “The coming days will bring more clarity and further details on the worldwide proliferation of the spyware.”

According to officials inside the Russian National Coordination Centre for Computer Incidents, the attacks were part of a broader campaign by the US National Security Agency that infected several thousand iPhones belonging to people inside diplomatic missions and embassies in Russia, specifically from those located in NATO countries, post-Soviet nations, Israel, and China. A separate alert from the FSB, Russia's Federal Security Service, alleged Apple cooperated with the NSA in the campaign.

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Asus will offer local ChatGPT-style AI servers for office use

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 09:00
The ASUS logo in front of an AI-generated background.

Enlarge / The ASUS logo in front of an AI-generated background. (credit: ASUS / Stable Diffusion)

Taiwan's Asustek Computer (known popularly as "Asus") plans to introduce a rental business AI server that will operate on-site to address security concerns and data control issues from cloud-based AI systems, Bloomberg reports. The service, called AFS Appliance, will feature Nvidia chips and run an AI language model called "Formosa" that Asus claims is equivalent to OpenAI's GPT-3.5.

Asus hopes to offer the service at about $6,000 per month, according to Bloomberg's interview with Asus Cloud and TWS President Peter Wu. The highest-powered server, based on an Nvidia DGX AI platform, will cost about $10,000 a month. The servers will be powered by Nvidia's A100 GPUs and will be owned and operated by Asus. The company hopes to provide the service to 30 to 50 enterprise customers in Taiwan at first, then expand internationally later in 2023.

"Nvidia are a partner with us to accelerate the enterprise adoption of this technology,” Wu told Bloomberg. “Before ChatGPT, the enterprises were not aware of why they need so much computing power.”

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Apple reportedly prepping a pair of high-end Mac desktops ahead of WWDC

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 08:51
Apple's Mac Studio desktop.

Enlarge / Apple's Mac Studio desktop. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

As Apple rumors go, the long-rumored 15-inch MacBook Air sounds almost certain to be announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference next week. But as Apple’s plans take shape, it also seems possible that we’ll see new Mac desktops featuring high-end M2 Max and M2 Ultra chips.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman believes that these new chips are most likely to power an updated range of Mac Studio desktops, a little over a year after the first Studios were initially introduced. As recently as a few months ago, Gurman speculated that the M2 generation would skip over the Mac Studio entirely and that Apple would instead opt to use the newer chips as a selling point for a new Apple Silicon Mac Pro.

But that version of reality may not come to pass. Gurman says these new Mac models have Mac14,3 and Mac14,4 model identifiers, while the Mac Pro that Apple is testing internally is identified as Mac14,8. (We initially thought these no-adjective model identifiers were a throwback to the PowerPC days, but the reality is more boring; Apple just isn’t using unique Mac names in model identifiers anymore, possibly to combat leaks and the speculation that arises when new IDs break cover.)

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Players replace Tears of the Kingdom’s patched-out item-dupe glitches

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 08:24

A guide for watching "memories" to perfectly time a new item-duplication glitch.

It has been only a week since Nintendo removed a number of popular The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom item-duplication glitches with the release of the game's 1.1.2 update patch. But intrepid players have already found alternate methods for creating infinite items to build and fight to their heart's content.

The most straightforward (if slow) new method for item duplication, as described by Kibbles Gaming, involves fusing an item to a weapon, preparing to throw that weapon, and then watching previously viewed cutscenes via the "memories" section of the Adventure Log. Each memory you view apparently advances the game's logic by a single frame, letting you easily pinpoint the four-frame timing window where you can throw a weapon while also retaining a copy in your inventory. While this method is consistent and simple to perform (even early in the game), it can take quite a while to fill up your inventory this way.

A more efficient item duplication method requires you to purchase Link's House near Tarry Town in the east, then place a shock emitter item near the weapon display. With good timing, you can place a weapon on that display during the same frame that the shock emitter knocks it out of your hands, thus creating two copies of the weapon (and any fused item) instantly.

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Researchers get primate embryos to start organ development in culture dishes

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 08:15
Image of a sphere of cells with a small cluster of additional cells inside.

Enlarge / Computer-generated image of an early stage in embryonic development, before organ formation starts. (credit: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

Scientists set a new record for growing primate embryos outside the womb, as reported in the May issue of the journal Cell. For the first time, monkey embryos were cultivated in a lab for 25 days post-fertilization, achieving key developmental landmarks never before observed in culture, including the start of organ development. The ability to track these processes in the lab might be an important step toward understanding congenital birth defects and organ development in humans.

Understanding development

The early stages of animal development, often referred to as embryogenesis, encompass the transition from a seemingly unremarkable clump of cells to a complex and compartmentalized organism. At the conclusion of embryogenesis, cells have started the march toward specialization, and organ systems have begun to form. In mammals, this is a process that usually happens in the comfort and privacy of the uterus, making it difficult to observe, even with the advent of advanced imaging. And it’s difficult to experiment with factors that might influence development.

All of this has led developmental biologists to search for ways to get this process to occur in a culture dish, bypassing these limitations. Studying human embryogenesis is restricted due to ethical and legal considerations. While the specific guidelines may vary from country to country, the outcome is a nearly global prohibition on lab-maintained human embryos past 14 days—before the progenitor of the nervous system forms. This detail is of particular medical relevance, as irregularities during nervous system formation can result in a range of conditions affecting the spine, spinal cord, and brain, including spina bifida.

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Toyota to build electric 3-row SUV in Kentucky, batteries in N. Carolina

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 07:55
A grey Toyota electric SUV concept, next to some other Toyota EV concepts

Enlarge / We don't know what this new SUV will look like or be called. The last big electric SUV concept the company showed was this bZ Large SUV in 2021. (credit: Toyota)

Toyota's factory in Georgetown, Kentucky, will get a bit of a glow-up. This week, the automaker confirmed that its factory in the Bluegrass State will assemble a new battery-electric vehicle starting in 2025. It will be an as-yet-unnamed three-row SUV, and the batteries for this new BEV will come from (somewhat) nearby North Carolina.

Toyota's Kentucky plant currently builds the powertrains and assembles the RAV4 hybrid, as well as sedans like the Camry and Lexus ES. It employs about 8,000 people to build more than half a million vehicles a year.

"Toyota Kentucky set the standard for Toyota vehicle manufacturing in the US, and now we’re leading the charge with BEVs," said Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky. "Our incredible team of Kentuckians is excited to take on this new challenge while delivering the same great quality and reliability our customers expect."

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The Atlantic hurricane season has begun: What we know and what we don’t

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 07:18
Hurricane Irma as seen by satellite in 2019.

Enlarge / Hurricane Irma as seen by satellite in 2019. (credit: NOAA)

Congratulations, everyone—we've made it to the startline of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.

Fasten your seatbelts because it could be a wild and bumpy ride. Or maybe not. Because when it comes to tropical activity, no one can be sure what will happen more than a few days into the future. And after about 10 or 12 days? Chaos theory rules, baby.

Not everyone needs to read this article, but many of you do. According to the US Census, more than 60 million Americans live in coastal areas vulnerable to tropical systems in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. For those residents, including yours truly, the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane lurks in the back of one's mind during the summer months like the dull pain of a past injury. The longer it has been since a nearby landfall, the more distant the hum. But it's there.

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Millions of PC motherboards were sold with a firmware backdoor

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 06:04
Millions of PC motherboards were sold with a firmware backdoor

Enlarge (credit: BeeBright/Getty Images)

Hiding malicious programs in a computer’s UEFI firmware, the deep-seated code that tells a PC how to load its operating system, has become an insidious trick in the toolkit of stealthy hackers. But when a motherboard manufacturer installs its own hidden backdoor in the firmware of millions of computers—and doesn’t even put a proper lock on that hidden back entrance—they’re practically doing hackers’ work for them.

Researchers at firmware-focused cybersecurity company Eclypsium revealed today that they’ve discovered a hidden mechanism in the firmware of motherboards sold by the Taiwanese manufacturer Gigabyte, whose components are commonly used in gaming PCs and other high-performance computers. Whenever a computer with the affected Gigabyte motherboard restarts, Eclypsium found, code within the motherboard’s firmware invisibly initiates an updater program that runs on the computer and in turn downloads and executes another piece of software.

While Eclypsium says the hidden code is meant to be an innocuous tool to keep the motherboard’s firmware updated, researchers found that it’s implemented insecurely, potentially allowing the mechanism to be hijacked and used to install malware instead of Gigabyte’s intended program. And because the updater program is triggered from the computer’s firmware, outside its operating system, it’s tough for users to remove or even discover.

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Ars Frontiers recap: What happens to developers when AI can code?

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 05:52

Our second AI panel of the day, featuring Georgetown University's Drew Lohn (center) and Luta Security CEO Katie Moussouris (right). Skip to 3:01:12 if the link doesn't take you directly there. Click here for a transcript of the session.

The final panel of the day at our Frontiers conference this year was hosted by me—though it was going to be tough to follow Benj's panel because I didn't have a cute intro planned. The topic we were covering was what might happen to developers when generative AI gets good enough to consistently create good code—and, fortunately, our panelists didn't think we had much to worry about. Not in the near term, at least.

Joined by Luta Security founder and CEO Katie Moussouris and Georgetown Senior Fellow Drew Lohn, the general consensus was that, although large language models can do some extremely impressive things, turning them loose to create production code is a terrible idea. While generative AI has indeed demonstrated the ability to create code, even cursory examination proves that today's large language models (LLMs) often do the same thing when coding that they do when spinning stories: they just make a whole bunch of stuff up. (The term of art here is "hallucination," but Ars AI expert Benj Edwards tends to prefer the term "confabulation" instead, as it more accurately reflects what it feels like the models are doing.)

So, while LLMs can be relied upon today to do simple things, like creating a regex, trusting them with your production code is way dicier.

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The “death of self-driving cars” has been greatly exaggerated

Thu, 06/01/2023 - 04:00
The latest iteration of Waymo's self-driving technology is based on the Jaguar I-PACE.

Enlarge / The latest iteration of Waymo's self-driving technology is based on the Jaguar I-PACE. (credit: Waymo)

Seven years ago, hype about self-driving cars was off the charts. It wasn’t just Tesla CEO Elon Musk—who has been making outlandish predictions about self-driving technology since 2015. In 2016, Ford set a goal to start selling cars without steering wheels by 2021. The same year, Lyft predicted that a majority of rides on its network would be autonomous by 2021.

None of that happened. Instead, the last few years have seen brutal consolidation. Uber sold off its self-driving project in 2020, and Lyft shut down its effort in 2021. Then, last October, Ford and Volkswagen announced they were shutting down their self-driving joint venture called Argo AI.

Today, a lot of people view self-driving technology as an expensive failure whose moment has passed. The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Mims argued in 2021 that self-driving cars “could be decades away.” Last year, Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin declared that “self-driving cars are going nowhere.”

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6 monitor and TV innovations remind us that trade shows still exist

Wed, 05/31/2023 - 16:44
Samsung rollable screen condensed and extended

Enlarge / Samsung Display imagines its unfurling screen embodying future portable monitors. (credit: Samsung Display)

Believe it or not, technology trade shows are a thing in 2023. There are huge exceptions, like the game industry's previously annual E3 conference. But others, like the CES consumer tech show in Las Vegas in January and the Computex computing show in Taipei this week, are still kicking and offering peeks at intriguing consumer monitor and TV tech.

No one knows what the future of tech shows holds. The pricey, flashy E3 show, for example, was declining for years before its last in-person show in 2019. Other trade shows are enduring notable decline in exhibitor numbers, in-show announcements, and attendee numbers.

This May, however, remained a time for tech trade shows. Computex started Tuesday, and The Society for Information Display (SID) held Display Week 2023 in Los Angeles last week.

As a tech reporter, the fun part of trade shows isn't racking up steps or spotting slivers of time to eat and sleep. It's checking out interesting products, features, and concepts that customers will soon see. It feels somewhat odd to say in this post-pandemic world, but May was actually an interesting time for trade show displays.

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Researchers tell owners to “assume compromise” of unpatched Zyxel firewalls

Wed, 05/31/2023 - 15:33
Researchers tell owners to “assume compromise” of unpatched Zyxel firewalls

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Firewalls made by Zyxel are being wrangled into a destructive botnet, which is taking control of them by exploiting a recently patched vulnerability with a severity rating of 9.8 out of a possible 10.

“At this stage if you have a vulnerable device exposed, assume compromise,” officials from Shadowserver, an organization that monitors Internet threats in real time, warned four days ago. The officials said the exploits are coming from a botnet that’s similar to Mirai, which harnesses the collective bandwidth of thousands of compromised Internet devices to knock sites offline with distributed denial-of-service attacks.

According to data from Shadowserver collected over the past 10 days, 25 of the top 62 Internet-connected devices waging “downstream attacks”—meaning attempting to hack other Internet-connected devices—were made by Zyxel as measured by IP addresses.

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