Gamers are complaining they are unable to delete their Activision Blizzard accounts, as they attempt to show solidarity with an e-sports competitor.

The US publisher caused controversy by placing a 12-month ban on a player who had voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Sunday.

Users say they get error messages when they try to erase their accounts. Some suggest it could be deliberate.

But the firm has indicated a technical problem is to blame.

“There’s an issue affecting the site which our engineers are currently addressing… it’s a priority for us to have this resolved,” one of its North America accounts tweeted.

The BBC’s request for a comment has not yet been answered.

Some players in Europe have said they are able to cancel their profiles but have raised concerns that they are being asked to first upload government-issued IDs.

The firm has defended this on the grounds that it needs to be sure of their identity as the process cannot be reversed.

Activision Blizzard is behind some of the most popular console, PC and mobile video games, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush.

Now some players, who have been unable to wipe their accounts, are threatening to tell their banks to block the company from deducting payments.

Protests began after the firm banned professional video game player, Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung.

After playing its Hearthstone online card game at a tournament, Blitzchung had called out in Mandarin, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age,” during a live-streamed interview.

The organisers wrote in a statement that the 21-year-old had broken competition rules and would not receive any prize money.

On 8 October, he was told he would not be allowed to compete professionally at Hearthstone for one year.

The hashtag #Blizzardboycott subsequently trended on Twitter.

And since then, the firm has faced a growing backlash from both customers and some employees.

The Daily Beast news site reported that a small group of workers at the company’s Los Angeles office staged a walkout in protest.

The matter has also drawn the attention of US politicians.

The row threatens to overshadow one of the firm’s biggest releases of the year – its latest Call of Duty console title – which is due to go on sale on 25 October.

About 2,200 people watched a gunman’s video of his attack outside a synagogue in Germany before it was removed from video-streaming site Twitch.

Twitch, which is owned by retail giant Amazon, said five people had watched the video as it was broadcast live.

The footage remained online for 30 minutes after the live stream, during which time more than 2,200 people watched it.

Twitch said the video was not promoted in its “recommended” feed.

“Our investigation suggests that people were co-ordinating and sharing the video via other online messaging services,” the company said in a statement.

The attack happened in the city of Halle in eastern Germany at about 12:00 local time (10:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

The video showed a man making anti-Semitic comments to camera before driving to a synagogue and shooting at its door.

After failing to get in, the gunman shot dead two people nearby.

The suspect is a 27-year-old German who acted alone, according to local media.

In a statement, Twitch said it had a “zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct”.

“Any act of violence is taken extremely seriously. We worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act,” it said.

The company said the account that live-streamed the attack had been created two months before the incident. It had only attempted to live-stream once before.

Twitch said it had shared a “hash” of the video with a group of tech companies including Microsoft and Facebook.

A video hash is essentially a “fingerprint” of a video that helps platforms detect if the same footage has been uploaded on their service.

Artificial intelligence

In March, an attack on a New Zealand mosque in which 51 people were killed was live-streamed on Facebook.

The social network was criticised for failing to prevent copies of videos of the Christchurch mosque shootings from being shared on its platform.

Facebook has since discussed plans to train algorithms to recognise videos of shootings so they can be detected and removed more quickly.

It plans to use footage from police body cameras, captured during training exercises, to teach its systems to detect videos of real-life shootings.

“We are far from solving this issue,” said Christopher Tegho, a machine learning engineer at the video analytics firm Calipsa.

“Understanding a whole scene is a more difficult and complicated task.

“One of the issues is getting enough data to understand shooting scenes. That is why Facebook is asking police to collect this data, it’s the first step.”

Apple has removed an app that protesters in Hong Kong have used to track police movements and tear gas use, saying the app violated its rules.

The company said the app, HKmap.live, had “been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents”.

Apple initially rejected the app – which uses data from protesters on the ground – from its store.

When it later appeared on the App Store, there was a sharply-worded response in official Chinese media.

The removal then came after “many concerned customers in Hong Kong contacted us”, Apple said.

“We have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police,” Apple said.

The statement added that “criminals have used it to victimise residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement”.

Although the app has been removed from Apple’s store, a website version appears to remain active. There is also a version on Google Play.

When the app was available on the App Store, Apple was criticised in Chinese state media.

Communist Party publication the People’s Daily didn’t name the app, but criticised Apple for “opening the door” to violent protests.

“Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings,” the paper said.

Apps previously have been removed after their release if they were found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.

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A number of companies have drawn the ire of Chinese officials over the long-running Hong Kong protests.

China’s state broadcaster has scrapped plans to show two US NBA basketball pre-season games over a pro-Hong Kong tweet from a team manager, and sponsors have also been critical.

Jeweller Tiffany & Co scrapped an advert image after some Chinese consumers suggested it was supportive of the protesters.

And California-based Video-game company Blizzard suspended a gamer after he expressed support for the protestors during a livestream.

Hong Kong protesters, meanwhile, the other hand, have targeted mainland banks and what they perceive to be pro-mainland businesses.

For Apple, China is both a major market and a manufacturing base for its products.

The manufacturing of Apple products directly and indirectly accounts for around three million jobs in China.

Apple had sales of $9.61bn last quarter in its Greater China category, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Man alleged to have faked identity as game developer

A man from Singapore has been indicted in the US for impersonating a game developer in order to steal time on cloud compute systems and mine cryptocurrency.

Ho Jun Jia, AKA Matthew Ho, was indicted for eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of access device fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft. He could face charges in the Seattle US Western District court if extradited.

The indictment (PDF) claims that from October 2017 to February 2018 Ho used a combination of stolen identities and social engineering to get massive amounts of virtual compute power through AWS. He’s accused of then using that power to crunch numbers to mine himself a number of different currencies, including Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum.

The stolen accounts, it is said, were from an unnamed LA-based games developer and eSports organizer. By using the identities and accounts from the developer, then contacting Amazon to grant him additional admin privileges, police believe Ho was able to reserve millions of dollars worth of VM instances with which he could mine the digital money.

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“In the few months his scheme remained active, Ho consumed more than $5 million in unpaid cloud computing services with his mining operation and, for a brief period, was one of Amazon Web Services (AWS) largest consumers of data usage by volume,” prosecutors said.

“Some of the bills were paid by the California game developer’s financial staff before the fraud was detected.”

In addition to spoofing the tech company, prosecutors also say Ho took the identity of a man in Texas and a business owner from India and used those accounts to reserve additional machines both on AWS and Google Cloud.

Ho was arrested by police in Singapore in late September. No trial date has been set, although the US does have an extradition treaty with the city state. ®

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People in Liverpool have longer mobile phone calls than the residents of nine other major British cities, an Ofcom survey has suggested.

Liverpudlians spend six minutes and 51 seconds on a single call, on average.

That’s more than 40% longer than Londoners, who came second in the survey results.

People in Bradford had the shortest conversations on average, at three minutes and 15 seconds.

Data for the survey was gathered from 150,000 mobile phone users between 1 January and 31 March this year.

The survey did not consider calls made via Skype or WhatsApp and similar apps.

The research also found that people who used their phones for online services mostly stuck to wi-fi. Mobile data services such as 3G and 4G were used for less than a third of such activity.

It’s partly thanks to this that 60% of users consume one gigabyte of data every month, the regulator said.

Analysis by the Citizens Advice earlier this year found that 71% of SIM-only customers were paying for data they did not use – costing £800 million annually.

Mobile conversations

Liverpudlians like to chat

Data shows that the total number of minutes spent on mobile calls increased from 132.1 billion to 148.6 billion between 2012 and 2017.

However, last year data collected by Ofcom showed that the amount of time spent making calls from mobile phones had fallen for the first time.

Young people often prefer messaging services over voice calls, the regulator has noted, and services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are becoming increasingly popular alternatives to voice calls.

Having a good signal has “never been more important” said Ian Macrae, director of market intelligence at Ofcom.

The regulator said that while 92% of people get basic mobile phone reception in their homes from all four networks, some still “struggle” to get a good signal.

Consumer group Which? argued that “too many” people faced poor reception.

“Until the government publishes plans for how it will achieve its current commitment, the UK will continue to lag behind and lack the comprehensive mobile and broadband connectivity it desperately needs,” said Caroline Normand, director of advocacy.

The UK government has committed to increasing mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2022.

Authoritarian regimes continue wrestling internet back into box

China and Russia will sign a joint treaty aimed to tackling “illegal internet content” later this month, the Russian telecoms regulator has announced.

The signing will take place on October 20, the first day of annual internet governance conference that the Chinese government has run for several years in Wuzhen.

Details are currently vague but for several years, both countries have passed increasingly restrictive laws on what people can post on the internet and how users can access it. Most importantly, however, is the fact that Russian authorities said the agreement would have the status of an international treaty.

That means that it is likely to be just the start of a broader effort by both countries to expand their vision of what should be allowed on the internet to more countries across the globe. It is also a sign of a growing partnership between the two countries, which will worry Western states that have long sought to protect the liberal information-sharing that the internet has traditionally embraced.

Examples of China and Russia clamping down on information that those in power would rather was not disseminated are, sadly, too numerous to mention. China is renowned for its Great Firewall that effectively shutters it off from the global internet and its vast armies of censors that constantly trawl what its citizens are posting and remove anything they deem inappropriate, as well as occasionally making a personal visit to people that frequently post such content.

One good example of how such censorship can be both amusing and chilling is in the effective banning of Winnie the Pooh – yes, the illustrated bear – in China because people started comparing it to China’s leader Xi Jinping.

The revolution will not be televised, tweeted, facebooked or instagrammed

More disturbing were the extraordinary technical capabilities that were used to remove – in real time – any mention of the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Russia wishes to be equally restrictive although it does not appear to have the technical capabilities and it has not put itself behind a national firewall, at least not yet – it is working on it. It has instead focused on removing people’s ability to access information anonymously. For example, it has banned the use of VPNs in the country unless approved by the authorities.

Earlier this year, Russia signed a new law that will force traffic through government-controlled exchanges and eventually require the creation of a national domain name system – something it has promoted as advancing Russian sovereignty.

That the two countries intend to formally work together is a sign that they intend to build a consistent way to limit and censor information online, and then use their significant political and economic power to drive others to adopt similar policies and technologies.

In that sense, the World Internet Conference where the treaty will apparently be signed is a fitting venue. The conference has become the focal point of efforts by both China to gain more control of the global data policies, which has been dominated by Western countries since the internet’s inception.

It was launched to counter a United Nations internet governance effort that both Russia and China has repeatedly tried, and failed, to turn in a more authoritarian direction. To the shame of many Western tech companies and internet governance specialists, the conference has been given increasing credibility thanks to their attendance in recent years, despite growing concerns around things like the banning of the press to attend.

Freedom loving Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a keynote in 2017. And the former head of DNS overseer ICANN, Fadi Chehade, even took a job putting the conference together.

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The alarm bells were there from the first conference in 2014 when the Chinese government tried to jam through a declaration on the last day, but people’s egos, and desire to draw closer to those overseeing the vast Chinese market, was a flame that many were drawn to.

Western government representatives has increasingly stayed away from the conference as its goals have become clearer and aligned with China march toward greater censorship.

And their attendance has increasingly been filled with representatives of nations closely aligned to Russia. In 2017, Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev was joined by the prime ministers of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. ®

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Goodenough for Goodenough as boffin is still working at 97

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three pioneers in the field of lithium ion batteries, which form the power storage unit of most modern technology.

At 97-years-old, John Goodenough, an engineering professor at The University of Texas, is the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize yet. Goodenough is joined by M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a professor of chemistry and materials science at Binghamton University, and Akira Yoshino, 71, a professor at Meijo University, Japan. The three Nobel laureates will equally share the cash prize of nine million Swedish krona, a little over $900,000 or £740,000.

Lithium ion batteries have revolutionized our lives. Having a tiny chemical hub nestled inside phones and computers has made technology portable. More powerful rechargeable batteries have also made it possible to develop electric cars or store cleaner energy from solar and wind power.

Since they entered the market in 1991, “they have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the organisation that awards the Nobel Prizes.

Lithium ion batteries are made up of three main components: two electrodes, an electric circuit, and electrolyte fluid. The electrodes – a negatively charged cathode and a positively charged anode – sit on either side of a seperator inside a volume of electrolyte fluid and are connected to an electrical circuit.

Negative lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode, producing current through the circuit to provide electrical power. When positive lithium ions flow in the other direction, from the cathode to the anode, the chemical batteries recharge so they’re ready to dispense current again when needed.

The push for lithium-ion batteries began in the 1970s. Whittingham began by fashioning the cathode in a lithium battery using titanium disulphide, a transition metal with high electrical conductive properties.

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Goodenough stepped in to make the batteries more powerful by boosting the voltage between the cathode and anode and replacing the cathode material with a metal oxide instead of metal disulphide. Yoshino built on both their research to develop the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985. By 1991, Asahi Kasei, a Japanese materials science company, and Sony released the first lithium-ion battery to market.

“I am overcome with gratitude at receiving this award, and I honestly have so many people to thank I don’t know where to begin,” said Whittingham. “The research I have been involved with for over 30 years has helped advance how we store and use energy at a foundational level, and it is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation’s energy future.”

“Live to 97 and you can do anything,” said Goodenough. “I’m honored and humbled to win the Nobel prize. I thank all my friends for the support and assistance throughout my life.”

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry comes after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the first exoplanet and the study of the early universe.®

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Aussie user’s AMD GPU breaks hash in just four days

Back in 2014, developer Leah Neukirchen found an /etc/passwd file among a file dump from the BSD 3 source tree that included the passwords used by various computer science pioneers, including Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Steve Bourne, and Bill Joy.

As she explained in a blog post on Wednesday, she decided at the time to try cracking the password hashes, created using DES-based crypt(3), using various cracking tools like John the Ripper and hashcat.

When the subject surfaced on the Unix Heritage Society mailing list last week, Neukirchen responded with 20 cracked passwords from the file that’s she’d broken five years ago. Five hashed passwords, however, remained elusive, including Thompson’s.

ZghOT0eRm4U9s

“Even an exhaustive search over all lower-case letters and digits took several days (back in 2014) and yielded no result,” wrote Neukirchen, who wondered whether Thompson might somehow have used uppercase or special characters.

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The mailing list participants, intrigued by the challenge, set to work on the holdouts. The breakthrough came on Wednesday, from Nigel Williams, a HPC systems administrator based in Hobart, Tasmania.

“Ken is done,” he wrote in a post to the mailing list. The cracking effort took more than four days on an AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 running hashcat at a rate of about 930MH/s.

ZghOT0eRm4U9s is a hash of p/q2-q4!

It’s a common chess opening in descriptive notation. As Neukirchen observed, Thompson contributed to the development of computer chess.

Thompson, who helped create Unix and the Go programming language among many other accomplishments, acknowledged the feat by offering his congratulations. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to NIST’s password guidelines, user-selected secrets should be at least eight characters in length, which assumes using the full range of upper-case, lower-case, and special characters. Microsoft suggests an eight character minimum too. But given that Thompson’s eight character password hash was cracked in a few days, something longer might provide more peace of mind. ®

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Whew, you’re a bit of a rust bucket, aren’t you?! Come with us

International Launch Services (ILS) sent up a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning with a payload containing the first commercial spacecraft designed to service and extend the life of satellites in orbit.

The 10:17 UTC launch saw the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) leave the Earth on a Proton Breeze M launcher.

While the former is another Ku-band satellite aimed at French, Italian and Algerian broadcast markets, MEV-1 is an altogether different beast.

Weighing in at 2,326kg (5,127 pounds) and based on the GeoStar-3 bus, the MEV-1 is designed to dock with soon-to-be-stricken satellites and take over attitude and orbit control.

For this mission, MEV-1 is targeting Intelsat 901. The plan is to dock with the satellite with a view to extending the life of the spacecraft for another five years before shunting it to a graveyard orbit.

MEV-1 itself has a 15-year lifespan, and can dock and undock several times, affording the potential to service multiple satellites.

Supplied by Northrop Grumman subsidiary SpaceLogistics LLC, the MEV is estimated (PDF) to be compatible with 80 per cent of all geosynchronous satellites on orbit today, utilising a simple mechanical system to grapple a client satellite before taking over station-keeping duties. The spacecraft features a pair of electric propulsion modules as well as optical IR and laser-based rendezvous instruments. It also carries illumination.

Of course, while Northrop Grumman is keen to trumpet the spacecraft’s “significant delta-V capability”, orbital mechanics mean that multiple MEVs would likely be needed over time as customers decide that a rescue makes more economic sense than launching a new satellite.

Should all go well, MEV-1 will use its electric thrusters over the next three months to raise its orbit to match that of the Intelsat 901 satelllite, which will have been moved by controllers to the GEO graveyard orbit for the test.

Using the graveyard orbit makes a lot of sense for this first test, since if things go wrong and a collision occurs, the risk to functioning satellites from debris will be reduced.

After inspecting IS901, MEV-1 will approach from behind autonomously with a few holds along the way for ground controller verification. It will finally attach itself to the nozzle of IS901’s own engine before moving the Intelsat satellite to a new location.

It’s a gloriously simple solution to the problem of extending the life of existing satellites or simply for redeploying spacecraft to new locations. Rather than faff around with pesky refuelling mechanisms, the MEV-1 simply grapples its target and putters off to where the customer needs it.

At time of writing, the MEV-1 is being manoeuvred to its separation point by the Breeze M upper stage. At 15 hours and 36 minutes after lift-off, it is expected to be released into an orbit with an apogee of 65,000km and a perigee of 12,049 km with an inclination of 13.3 degrees. ®

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Non-Indian call centres and High Street shops on the way

These truly are strange times. BT is plotting a return to the High Street, unleashing hundreds of tech troubleshooters onto the unsuspecting public – and onshoring all of its call centres to Britain quicker than scheduled.

New broom Philip Jansen – who took over as CEO from Salesforce bound Gavin Patterson on 1 January – trotted out a flurry of announcements today; handy to deflect attention from declining sales and profits, or indeed the massive cost-cutting programme underway.

“We’re helping families and communities across the UK, and companies in Britain and around the world, to remove the barriers of today to realise the potential of tomorrow,” he said in a canned remark. “We’re starting a journey today with real changes that will have a positive impact.”

Back down on earth – or maybe not – BT said it is “reinventing what it means to provide great customer service”, in much the same way that, er, Dixons’ Knowhow team has done. The 900-strong team of “tech experts “ will be dispatched to people’s homes to help them install or fix their digital stuff. For business customers, the fleet of techies will “carry out personalised set-up of products and services that are most critical” to run organisations.

The service is free to existing customers and is said to cost £30 for non-BT customers. We presume this is per hour but have asked BT to clarify. We have also asked what the parameters for such visits are.

A year ahead of schedule, BT said that all of its customer calls will be answered from a UK call centre from January next year, bringing forward its previous pledge of January 2021 for this to happen. Separately, it will launch regional route calling so that the nearest open call centre takes the call.

In another nod to a bygone era the telco will also reappear on the High Street for the first time in 15 years. Some 600 EE stores will get a new lick of paint and sport dual branding, giving individual customers and small businesses “local access” to a BT employee who can get them online for the first time or flog gadgets to the unwary.

BT needs all the good news it can promote these days, what with the multi-year £1.5bn expense purge that includes exiting 90 per cent of its real estate in the UK and laying off up to 13,000 employees. So far the cost-cutting has helped improve BT’s profits for fiscal year ’19, though fiscal ’20 didn’t start so well. ®

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