Moscow, Jul 13(AP/UNB) — Russia's space agency says a Russian Proton-M rocket has successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit after days of launch delays.
Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.
Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it.
Located 1.5 million kilometers (0.93 million miles) from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG. If all goes well, it will arrive at its designated position in three months.
If Spektr-RG reaches L2 successfully, it will be the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth's orbit since the Soviet era.
Beijing, July 13 (Xinhua/UNB) -- A joint research team of scientists from China and other countries announced Thursday that they had discovered a new species of ancient bird fossilized in amber in northern Myanmar.
According to the team, the new specimen includes a partial right hindlimb and remiges from an adult or subadult bird. Its foot, of which the third digit is much longer than the second and fourth digits, is distinct from those of all other currently recognized Mesozoic and extant birds.
The amber, about 3.5 cm long and weighs 5.5 grams, was formed nearly 100 million years ago during the early stage of the late Cretaceous Period, with a well-preserved bird's skeleton.
The research was conducted by paleontologists from the China University of Geosciences (Beijing), the Royal Saskatchewan Museum of Canada, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
"Considering the length of its preserved leg part of about 3 cm, we think the bird was much smaller than a sparrow. Its remarkably longer third toe may be for better adaptation to an arboreal life or for predation," said Xing Lida, a Chinese researcher.
The findings have been published in the academic journal Current Biology.
Washington, Jul 13 (AP/UNB) — Pennsylvania's message was clear: The state was taking a big step to keep its elections from being hacked in 2020. Last April, its top election official told counties they had to update their systems. So far, nearly 60 percent have taken action, with $14.15 million of mostly federal funds helping counties buy brand new electoral systems.
But there's a problem: Many of these new systems still run on old software that will soon be outdated and more vulnerable to hackers.
An Associated Press analysis has found that like many counties in Pennsylvania, the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.
That's significant because Windows 7 reaches its "end of life" on Jan. 14, meaning Microsoft stops providing technical support and producing "patches" to fix software vulnerabilities, which hackers can exploit. In a statement to the AP, Microsoft said Friday it would offer continued Windows 7 security updates for a fee through 2023.
Critics say the situation is an example of what happens when private companies ultimately determine the security level of election systems with a lack of federal requirements or oversight. Vendors say they have been making consistent improvements in election systems. And many state officials say they are wary of federal involvement in state and local elections.
It's unclear whether the often hefty expense of security updates would be paid by vendors operating on razor-thin profit margins or cash-strapped jurisdictions. It's also uncertain if a version running on Windows 10, which has more security features, can be certified and rolled out in time for primaries.
"That's a very serious concern," said J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and renowned election security expert. He said the country risks repeating "mistakes that we made over the last decade or decade-and-a-half when states bought voting machines but didn't keep the software up-to-date and didn't have any serious provisions" for doing so.
The AP surveyed all 50 states, the District of Columbia and territories, and found multiple battleground states affected by the end of Windows 7 support, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina. Also affected are Michigan, which recently acquired a new system, and Georgia, which will announce its new system soon.
"Is this a bad joke?" said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity advocacy organization, upon learning about the Windows 7 issue. Her group sued Georgia to get it to ditch its paperless voting machines and adopt a more secure system. Georgia recently piloted a system running on Windows 7 that was praised by state officials.
If Georgia selects a system that runs on Windows 7, Marks said, her group will go to court to block the purchase. State elections spokeswoman Tess Hammock declined to comment because Georgia hasn't officially selected a vendor.
The election technology industry is dominated by three titans: Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software LLC; Denver, Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems Inc.; and Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic Inc. They make up about 92 percent of election systems used nationwide, according to a 2017 study . All three have worked to win over states newly infused with federal funds and eager for an update.
U.S. officials determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and have warned that Russia, China and other nations are trying to influence the 2020 elections.
Of the three companies, only Dominion's newer systems aren't touched by upcoming Windows software issues — though it has election systems acquired from no-longer-existing companies that may run on even older operating systems.
Hart's system runs on a Windows version that reaches its end of life on Oct. 13, 2020, weeks before the election.
ES&S said it expects by the fall to be able to offer customers an election system running on Microsoft's current operating system, Windows 10. It's now being tested by a federally-accredited lab.
For jurisdictions that have already purchased systems running on Windows 7, ES&S said it will be working with Microsoft to provide support until jurisdictions can update. Windows 10 came out in 2015.
Hart and Dominion didn't respond to requests for comment.
Microsoft usually releases patches for operating systems monthly, so hackers have learned to target older, unsupported systems. Its systems have been ground zero for crippling cyberattacks, including the WannaCry ransomware attack which froze systems in 200,000 computers across 150 countries in 2017.
For many people, the end of Microsoft 7 support means simply updating. However, for election systems the process is more onerous. ES&S and Hart don't have federally certified systems on Windows 10, and the road to certification is long and costly, often taking at least a year and costing six figures.
ES&S, the nation's largest vendor, completed its latest certification four months ago, using Windows 7. Hart's last certification was May 29 on a Windows version that also won't be supported by November 2020.
Though ES&S is testing a new system it's unclear how long it will take to complete the process — federal and possible state recertification, plus rolling out updates — and if it will be done before primaries begin in February.
Election administrators notoriously suffer from insufficient resources. Recently, many jurisdictions splurged on new election systems, some using their portion of $380 million in federal funds provided to states.
Counties in South Dakota, South Carolina and Delaware all recently bought election systems, while many others are evaluating purchases.
The use of election systems that still run on Windows 7 "is of concern, and it should be of concern," said U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chair Christy McCormick. EAC develops election system guidelines.
McCormick noted that while election systems aren't supposed to be connected to the internet, various stages of the election process require transfers of information, which could be points of vulnerability for attackers. She said some election administrators are working to address the problem.
Officials in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona say they have discussed the software issue with their vendors. Other states mentioned in this story didn't respond to AP requests for comment.
Pennsylvania's elections spokeswoman Wanda Murren said contract language allows such a software upgrade for free. Arizona's elections spokesman C. Murphy Herbert said ES&S has also assured the state that it will provide support to counties for an upgrade.
Susan Greenhalgh, policy director for the advocacy group National Election Defense Coalition, said even the best scenario has election administrators preparing for primaries while trying to upgrade their systems, which is "crazy."
Certification, which is voluntary at the federal level but sometimes required by state laws, ensures vendor software runs properly on operating systems they're tested on. But there is no cybersecurity check and the process often fails to keep up with rapidly changing technology.
Kevin Skoglund, chief technologist for Citizens for Better Elections, said county election officials point to EAC and state certifications as "rock-solid proof" their systems are secure, but don't realize vendors are certifying systems under 2005 standards.
Local officials rely on vendors to build secure systems and EAC and the states to enforce high standards, Skoglund said.
After the AP began making inquiries, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote McCormick asking what EAC, which has no regulatory power, is doing to address a "looming election cybersecurity crisis" that essentially lays the "red carpet" out to hackers.
"Congress must pass legislation giving the federal government the authority to mandate basic cybersecurity for election infrastructure," Wyden told the AP in a statement.
Washington, Jul 13 (AP/UNB) -- Chinese scientists developed a combined tumor-killing therapy that can be activated specifically at tumor sites in mouse models of cancer, which is more effective than previous similar therapies.
The study published on Friday in the journal Science Immunology described the new cancer immunotherapy that can prevent the immune system from becoming tolerant of tumors, which occurs in 30 percent of all cancer patients.
A team led by Wang Dangge from Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Fudan University developed a common immune checkpoint inhibitor in a nanoparticle formulation, which is highly tumor-specific.
The checkpoint inhibitor is a kind of increasingly popular anti-tumor drug. It can block proteins that keep immune T cells from killing cancer. But the checkpoint inhibitor used to target those immune system-suppressing proteins like PD-1 and PD-L1 often fails to reach deep-seated or metastatic tumors.
Wang's team combined the nanoparticles carrying PD-L1-targeting antibodies with a light-activated molecule. The molecule called photosensitizer can produce tumor-killing reactive oxygen species after encountering a protein abundant in tumors, according to the study.
In mouse models, a local near-infrared radiation that activated the photosensitizer, along with the administration of antibodies-carrying nanoparticles, promoted the infiltration of cancer cell-killing T cells into the tumor site and made the tumors more sensitive to the checkpoint blockade.
This combination also helped the nanoparticles effectively suppress tumor growth and metastasis to the lung and lymph nodes, resulting in approximately 80 percent mouse survival over 70 days, compared to complete mouse death in 45 days in the group treated with only PD-L1 antibodies, according to the study.
Dhaka, Jul 13 (AP/UNB) - The FTC has voted to approve a fine of about $5 billion for Facebook over privacy violations, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The report cited an unnamed person familiar with the matter.
Facebook and the FTC declined to comment. The Journal said the 3-2 vote broke along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition to the settlement.
In most cases the Justice Department's civil division will review settlements by the FTC, and it is unclear how long the process would take. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the Facebook matter.
The fine would be the largest the FTC has levied on a tech company. But it won't make much of a dent for Facebook, which had nearly $56 billion in revenue last year. Facebook has earmarked $3 billion for a potential fine and said in April it was anticipating having to pay up to $5 billion.
The report did not say what else the settlement includes beyond the fine, though it is expected to include limits on how Facebook treats user privacy. Some have called on the FTC to hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally liable for the privacy violations in some way, but based on the party line vote breakdown experts said this is not likely.
Marc Rotenberg, president of the nonprofit online privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he was "confused" as to why the Democratic commissioners didn't support the settlement and said he suspects, without having seen the actual settlement, that this was due to the Zuckerberg liability question.
"But I thought that was misguided," he said, adding that EPIC instead supports more wholesale limits on how Facebook handles user privacy.
Since the Cambridge Analytica debacle erupted more than a year ago and prompted the FTC investigation, Facebook has vowed to do a better job corralling its users' data. That scandal revealed that a data mining firm affiliated with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign improperly accessed private information from as many as 87 million Facebook users through a quiz app.
Other leaky controls have also since come to light. Facebook acknowledged giving big tech companies like Amazon and Yahoo extensive access to users' personal data, in effect exempting them from its usual privacy rules. And it collected call and text logs from phones running Google's Android system in 2015.
Wall Street appeared unfazed at the prospect of the fine. Facebook's shares closed at $204.87 on Friday and added 24 cents after hours. The stock is up more than 50 percent since the beginning of the year.
"This closes a dark chapter and puts it in the rearview mirror with Cambridge Analytica," said Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives. "Investors still had lingering worries that the fine might not be approved. Now, the Street can breathe a little easier."
Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said in a statement that the fine gives Facebook "a Christmas present five months early. It's very disappointing that such an enormously powerful company that engaged in such serious misconduct is getting a slap on the wrist. This fine is a fraction of Facebook's annual revenue."
Cicilline leads the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, which is pursuing a bipartisan investigation of the big tech companies' market dominance.