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China says it’s building world’s first “unhackable” communications network

Chinese engineers reportedly have developed will host a new quantum-based communications platform that is truly immune to hacking–a potential game-changer for the world’s communications systems if true. This quantum messaging system will have an initial user base of 200 high-ranking Chinese government officials, defense leaders, and financial officers in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan and will likely go into commercial use in August.

“We plan to use the network for national defense, finance and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful, can be used across China and the whole world,” Zhou Fei, assistant director of Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, told the Financial Times.

Quantum communications’ message transmissions exhibit quantum entanglement, a phenomenon by which two or more sub-atomic particles affect each other no matter how far away they are from each other. This makes it much more secure than standard communications transmissions, since there are no streams of data passing through space for hackers to intercept.

The new Chinese system sends its messages in particles of light. If an outside party attempts to hack into the system, the particles’ quantum nature will all immediately change and destroy the message.

China laid out crucial groundwork last August when it launched the world’s first quantum communications satellite, Micius. Chinese researchers reported last month that they had established a quantum entanglement between a particle in this satellite and another down on Earth’s surface.

These efforts put China far ahead of the United States or Europe on quantum communications. Anton Zeilinger, a University of Vienna quantum physicist, told the BBC that he had tried unsuccessfully to convince the European Union to invest in quantum encrypted communications back in 2004. Other US researchers have warned the U.S. government that it risks losing ground in space to a surging China.

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Researchers “edit” human embryo’s DNA

Genome-changing technology that could modify a human fetus’s DNA in utero to prevent deformities or diseases underwent a successful test demonstration at the University of Oregon, the MIT Technology Review reported Wednesday. The experiment, in which the researchers led by Oregon geneticist Shoukhrat Mitalipov altered human DNA in single-cell embryos, is the first of its kind in the United States.

China has undertaken three promising experiments in this technology. But the Oregon researchers were the first U.S.-based scientists to do so, said Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute.

Mitalipov and his team used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. This method entails locating targeted genes in a cell’s genome and using an enzyme called Cas9 that cuts into the strand to remove the genes. The cell recognizes that damage has occurred and induces a repair process, and the human researchers guide the repairs to make sure that new, healthier genes grow in place of the old ones.

The Oregon researchers did not invent CRISPR. But the report said that they significantly scaled it up, stating that they broke new ground “both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.”

They also solved a problem the. Hey near studies had encountered and called “mosaicism,” in which some cells in the embryo took up the desired changes but other cells did not. Mitalipov and his team injected CRISPR into the eggs at the moment when they were fertilized with sperm, and the end result was very little mosaicism.

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Facebook cybersecurity chief calls out sexual harassment at hacker forums

The cybersecurity can do a lot more to foster gender diversity, Facebook chief of security Alex Stamos said during a keynote speech Wednesday at the annual Black Hat cybersecurity convention in Las Vegas. He pointed out the complexities of keeping ahead of cybersecurity challenges and suggested that building a more “inclusive” IT community where all would feel welcomed would be a necessary step toward developing better solutions.

“It’s not just about diversifying our community. It’s about building the ability for us to address these problems over the next decades,” he said. “Things are getting worse. We don’t have enough people and we don’t have the right people, and a lot of that starts here.”

Stamos told Forbes earlier that he finds the cybersecurity industry to be weak in the area of diversity–especially gender diversity. Numerous women attending industry conferences in the last few years have experienced harassment.

At the 2016 DEF CON event, for example, women attendees heard male counterparts ask them to expose themselves. Other women at the 2012 DEF CON reported men grabbing them by their crotches.

Stamos told Forbes that attendees at any events must respect each other and must call out any unacceptable behavior. On top of that, he added, the industry as a whole must foster a more gender diverse workforce and leadership.

Stamos cited his and Facebook’s work in these areas. He announced new scholarships to bring more women and other people of diverse backgrounds into IT. And he noted that women constitute nearly half of Facebook’s management and leadership positions.


Police fatally shoot man while serving warrant at wrong house

Police officers in Southaven, Mississippi, were trying to serve an arrest warrant in an aggravated assault case, but ended up going to the wrong home and killing Ismael Lopez, who had no criminal record and no warrant out for his arrest, according to The Washington Post.

Although the officers claim that when they approached the home, the door was open a crack and they saw a gun pointed at them, the Lopez family attorney, Murray Wells, disputes that account, saying Lopez did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot. Lopez’s wife, who was in bed with him at the time of the incident, also contradicted the officers’ claim that they told Lopez to drop the gun multiple times.

When Lopez’s wife heard the gunshots after her husband went to the door to see what was happening outside, she ran to him. But by that time, he was already dead.

“They’ve been in that home for 13 years,” Wells told NBC-affiliate WMCA. “The only time the police had ever been there was when they had been robbed. No criminal history whatsoever. A long-standing employee of the city of Bartlett, mechanic. Loved in the neighborhood.”

Lopez was a native of Veracruz, Mexico, according to family friend, Jordan Castillo, but had worked and lived in the U.S. for many years as a mechanic. On Monday, Castillo showed reporters the three bullet holes in the Lopez home’s front door.

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Shipment of live king cobras in potato chip canisters leads to arrest

A California man was arrested by special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Tuesday on federal charges that he stuffed three king cobra snakes into potato chip canisters and smuggled them into the country.

King cobras are a protected, highly venomous reptile.

Rodrigo Franco, 34, is charged with one count of illegal importing merchandise into the United States, a statement by the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.

United States Customs and Border Protection discovered the approximately two-foot-long snakes on March 2, according to an affidavit filed in court. The package, which came from Hong Kong, also contained three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles.

Because the snakes were considered dangerous, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service seized them, but made a special delivery of the turtles to Franco’s home. Then, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the USFWS executed a search warrant at the residence.

As a result of the search warrant, agents found more protected species, including snapping turtles, diamond back terrapins, and a live baby Morelet’s crocodile.

Franco admitted to authorities that he had received 20 king cobras in two previous shipments, but said those had perished in transit. Evidence from his phone showed messages discussing shipping snakes and turtles between Asia and the U.S.

The smuggling charge against Franco carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

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Dogs’ fondness for humans has genetic basis, new study says

A new study pinpoints genetic variations in dogs that distinguish them from wolves and account for their natural sociability with humans.

An interdisciplinary team that included researchers from Princeton University sequenced a region of chromosome 6 in dogs, according to a university statement. They discovered many sections of canine DNA associated with social behavior.

Unique genetic insertions, called transposons, on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical regions (WBSCR) were strongly associated with social traits, such as seeking out humans for physical contact.

Interestingly, the congenital human disorder, Williams-Beuren syndrome, which causes hyper-social behavior such as extreme talkativeness, is caused by the deletion, rather than the insertion, of genes from the genome.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said lead co-author Bridgett vonHolt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton.

The team analyzed behavioral and genetic data from 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive gray wolves that were socialized to interact with humans.

By a series experiments to test the canines’ sociability traits, the researchers found that the domestic dogs showed a greater tendency to seek out humans and engage in human-oriented behavior. They also found that only dogs had transposons on the WBSCR.

“We haven’t found a ‘social gene,’ but rather an important component that shapes animal personality and assisted the process of domesticating a wild wolf into a tame dog,” vanHolt said.

The study is published in Science Advances.


Judge stirs controversy by offering reduced sentences for vasectomies

Judge Sam Benningfield of White County, Tennessee, is drawing fire for suggesting a controversial solution to the problem of drug-addicted babies: reduced county jail time if an inmate chooses to get a vasectomy or have a contraceptive implant.

The judge’s order offers a two-day reduction in sentence for inmates who complete the Department of Health’s Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) educational program and a 30-day reduction if they undergo a reversible birth-control procedure. For men, this means a vasectomy and for women, a contraceptive implant.

“I think it is potentially unlawful,” said local district attorney Bryant Dunaway, who prosecutes cases before Judge Benningfield, in a CBS News report. “It’s not the place of government or the courts, or the state of Tennessee to encourage the trading of fertility procedures for a reduction in sentences.”

Twenty-four women and 38 men have signed up for the procedures, which do not amount to sterilization. The vasectomies can be reversed and the contraceptive implants last up to three years.

“I’m trying to help these folks, you know, begin to think about taking responsibility for their life and doing right and giving them a leg up,” said Benningfield. “And when they get out of jail to perhaps rehabilitate themselves and not be burdened again with unwanted children and all than comes with that.”

The ACLU is calling Judge Benningfield’s solution “coerced contraception” that violates the Constitution.

“Judges play an important role in our community — overseeing individuals’ childbearing capacity should not be part of that role,” an ACLU statement said.


Judge promises reduced sentences to inmates who get vasectomies

A Tennessee judge has courted controversy with an unconventional approach to drug-related sentencing: He will reduce the sentences of inmates who voluntarily undergoes medical procedures to prevent them from having children. Sam Benningfield, general sessions judge for White County, Tennessee, issued his order in May as an antidote to the high incidence of children born with medical complications because their parents were using illegal drugs.
Benningfield directed his order to inmates at the White County Jail. The offer is 30 days off the sentence of any male inmate who undergoes a vasectomy or any female inmate who receives a Nexplanon implant. He will also offer two days of reduced jail time to any inmates who attend a state-run education program on neonatal abstinence syndrome—the clinical term for the variety of complications that infants born to mothers who used illegal drugs during the pregnancy.
“I’m trying to help these folks begin to think about taking responsibility for their life and giving them a leg up — you know, when they get out of jail — to perhaps rehabilitate themselves and not be burdened again with unwanted children and all that comes with that,” Benningfield told CBS News.
The judge’s order has riled the state American Civil Liberties Union, however, which called it “unconstitutional” and an encroachment on inmates’ “reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity” in a written statement. The county’s district attorney general, Bryant Dunaway, also came out against it and told News Channel 5 that decisions about long-term contraception are “personal in nature” and not appropriate for a judge to push.
“I think that’s just something the court system should not encourage or mandate,” Dunaway said.

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Apple owes Ireland more than $15 billion in back taxes

The Irish government is setting up an escrow fund to facilitate the collection of an estimated 13 billion Euros–$15.2 billion—in back taxes from Apple Inc. The arrangement is the product of months of intensive negotiations between Ireland, Apple, and the European Union and resolves European Union complaints from a year ago that the Irish government had been giving the iPhone giant an unacceptably lenient break on corporate taxes.
A custodian appointed jointly by Apple and the government will oversee the new account, which Apple will deposit funds into until it has paid the tax debt in full, said the Irish finance ministry in a statement. One or more investment managers will also help manage the funds.
The case dates back to August 2016, when the EU’s Competition Commission ruled that Ireland had been giving Apple a special corporate tax break and that the deal broke state-aid rules. The commission ordered Apple’s tax dues to be recalculated in accordance with EU regulations, resulting in a 13 billion-Euro back-tax obligation that Apple was on the hook to pay.
Ireland was supposed to have collected the balance from Apply by January, but negotiations and court appeals dragged out the process past this deadline. The Irish finance ministry and Apple both said that they are working to resolve the situation.
“The European Commission’s case against Ireland has never been about how much Apple pays in taxes, it’s about which government gets the money,” said Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock. “The United States government, the Irish government and Apple all agree we’ve paid our taxes according the law. Since virtually all of our research and development takes place in the United States, according to the law, we pay the majority of our taxes in the U.S.”

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Gigantic ocean sunfish is first new species found in over 100 years

A team of scientists has identified a fourth ocean sunfish species — making it the first new sunfish species to be discovered in 130 years.

The rarely seen fish, nicknamed Hoodwinker, remained elusive despite its huge size. It can grow as long as 10 feet and weigh as much as two tons, according to a report by Newsweek.

In 2009, Marianne Nyegaard, a postdoctoral student at Australia’s Murdoch University, and her team determined from DNA samples taken from more than 150 sunfish that there are four separate species of sunfish. However, because scientists only had skin samples from three species, the researchers concluded that an as yet undiscovered fourth species must exist.

“We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time,” said Nyegaard, in the Newsweek report. “Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the Hoodwinker.”

In 2014, Nyegaard saw her first Hoodwinker, or Mola tecta, after getting a tip from a fishery about four gigantic sunfish stranded on a beach near Christchurch, New Zealand. Then, for the next few years, she scoured the southern hemisphere for more Hoodwinkers. With the help of local fishermen, she collected 27 samples.

Hoodwinker has a slimmer adult body than other sunfish species and lacks their protruding snout and bumpy, swollen back fin, Nyegaard says. It also is quite a bit larger than other species.

Nyegaard’s discovery is detailed in a paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.