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Even After Multiple Cyberattacks, Many Businesses Fail to Bolster Security. Here's What You Need to Do
June 18, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

Small businesses suffered a barrage of computer invasions last year but most took no action to shore up their security afterward, according to a survey by insurer Hiscox.

It found that 47 percent of small businesses reported that they had one attack in 2017, and 44 percent said they had two to four attacks.

The invasions included ransomware, which makes a computer’s files unusable unless the device’s user or owner pays a ransom, and phishing, in which emails that look legitimate are used to steals information. The invasions also include what are called drive-by attacks, which infect websites and in turn the computers that visit them.

Despite the prevalence of the data invasions, only about half of small businesses said they had a clear cybersecurity strategy, the report found. And nearly two-thirds said they didn’t bolster their security after an attack.

Hiscox estimates that seven out of 10 businesses aren’t prepared to handle cyber attacks, although they can cost a company thousands of dollars or more and ransomware can shut down operations. Cybersecurity tends to get pushed to the back burner while owners are busy developing products and services and working with clients and employees. Or owners may see it as an expense they can’t afford right now.

Some basic cybersecurity advice:

–Back up all of a company’s data securely. This means paying for a service that keeps a duplicate of all files on an ongoing basis. The best backups keep creating versions of a company’s files that can be accessed in the event of ransomware — eliminating the need to pay data thieves. Some backups cost just a few hundred dollars a year.

–Install software that searches for and immobilizes viruses, malware and other harmful programs. Also install firewalls and data encryption programs.

–Make sure you have all the updates and patches for your operating systems for all your devices. They often include security programs.

–If you have a website, learn how to protect it from hackers, using software including firewalls. But you might be better off hiring a service that will monitor your site with sophisticated tools that detect and disable intruders.

–Tell your staffers, and keep reminding them, about the dangers of clicking on links or attachments in emails unless they’re completely sure the emails are from a legitimate source. Educate your employees about phishing attacks and the tricks they use. Phishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are creating emails that look like they really could have come from your bank or a company you do business with.

–Hire an information technology consultant who will regularly look at your systems to be sure you have the tools you need to keep your data safe.

–The Associated Press

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Climate Change Made Zombie Ants Even More Cunning
May 29, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

Raquel Loreto is a zombie hunter, and a good one. But traipsing through dried leaves in a hot forest in Sanda, at the southern end of Japan, she needed a guide. Just a few months before, she’d been on the internet and come across the work of artist Shigeo Ootak, whose fantastical images depict humans with curious protrusions erupting from their heads. She got in touch, and he invited her to Japan for a hike to find his inspiration.

Ootak knew precisely where to look: six feet off the ground. And there in a sparse forest, that’s where they found it: the zombie ant, an entrancing species with two long hooks coming out of its back. By now you may have heard its famous tale. A parasitic fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps, invades an ant’s body, growing through its tissues and soaking up nutrients. Then it somehow orders its host to march out of the nest and up a tree above the colony’s trails. The fungus commands the ant to bite onto the vein of a leaf, then kills the thing and grows as a stalk out of the back of its head, turning it into a showerhead raining spores onto victims down below.

That’s how it all goes down in South American forests, where Loreto had already spent plenty of time. But the zombie she found on her hike in Japan was different. First of all, the fungus had driven it higher up a tree. And two, it hadn’t bitten onto a leaf, but had wrapped itself around a twig, hanging upside down.

See, in the tropics, leaves stay on trees all year—but in Japan, they wither and fall. Same goes for zombie ants in the southern United States. By ordering the ant to lock onto a twig, the fungus helps ensure it can stay perched long enough to mature and rain death on more ants. In a study out today in the journal Evolution, Loreto and her colleagues show that divergence between leaf-biting and twig-biting seems to have been a consequence of ancient climate change. So who knows, modern climate change may also do interesting things to the evolution of the parasite.

Come back in time with me 47 million years to an unrecognizable Germany. It’s much hotter and wetter. As such, evergreen forests grow not only up through Europe, but all the way up to the arctic circle. One day, a zombie ant wanders up a tree and bites onto the vein of a leaf, which conveniently enough gets fossilized. Time goes on. The climate cools, and Germany’s wet forests turn temperate.

Almost a decade ago, Penn State entomologist David Hughes looked at that fossil leaf and noticed the tell-tale bite marks of a zombie ant. “Given the fossil evidence in Germany, we know leaf biting occurred then,” say Hughes, a coauthor on the paper. “We suspect that it was also present in North America, and as those populations responded to climate change and the cooling temperature, we see a shift from biting leaves to dying on twigs.”

David Hughes

As vegetation changed from evergreen to deciduous, the fungus found itself in a pickle. But evolution loves a pickle. Ophio adapted independently in Japan and North America to order the ant to seek out twigs, which provided a more reliable, longer-term perch. The fungus grows much slower.

Loreto and Hughes know this thanks to the work of Kim Fleming, a citizen scientist who discovered zombie ant graveyards on her property in South Carolina. She’s been collecting meticulous data for the researchers, scouring the forest for the zombies and marking them with colored tape. “I made a map for myself so I wouldn’t get lost and leave some out,” says Fleming. (For her efforts, she’s now got a species of her very own: Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae.)

What Fleming helped discover is that while in the tropics the fungus reaches full maturity in one or two months, in temperate climes like hers, the fungus sets up its zombie ant on a twig in June, but doesn’t reach maturity until the next year. In fact, the fungi may actually freeze over the winter. If it were attached to a leaf, it’d tumble to the ground in the fall.

“So it’s almost as if they’ve decided that nothing is going to happen this year, I’m just going to have to sit around because I don’t have time to mature and get spores out,” says Hughes. Plus, the ants hibernate in the winter anyway. Even if the fungus shot spores, there’d be no ants to infect—they’ll all chilling underground in their nest.

Opting for twigs does come with a downside, though: It’s really tough to get good purchase. Until, that is, the fungus initiates a second behavior, ordering the ant to wrap its limbs around the twig, sometimes crossing the legs on the other side of the twig for extra strength. “The hyphae of the fungus growing out of the legs works as glue on the twig as well,” says Loreto. “Sometimes they would even slide down the twig, but they wouldn’t fall.”

It’s hard to imagine how a fungus with no brain could figure this all out, but that’s the power of evolution. And it goes further: In June in temperate climes, the forest is still full of both twigs and leaves, yet the fungus directs zombie ants to lock onto twigs exclusively. And in the Amazon, where it’s lush all year round, they only ever lock onto leaves. “How in the name of … whoever … does the fungus inside the body know what the difference between the leaf and the twig is?” Hughes asks. It always has both options, yet only ever “chooses” one—the best strategy for its particular surroundings.

And so a parasitic manipulation that already defied human credulity grows ever more incredible, far beyond any work of zombie fiction. Your move, Hollywood.


More Great WIRED Stories

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Facebook says users must accept targeted ads even under new EU law
April 18, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

MENLO PARK, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Tuesday it would continue requiring people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service, a stance that may help keep its business model largely intact despite a new European Union privacy law.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The EU law, which takes effect next month, promises the biggest shakeup in online privacy since the birth of the internet. Companies face fines if they collect or use personal information without permission.

Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.

“Facebook is an advertising-supported service,” Sherman said in a briefing with reporters at Facebook’s headquarters.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Facebook users will be able to limit the kinds of data that advertisers use to target their pitches, he added, but “all ads on Facebook are targeted to some extent, and that’s true for offline advertising, as well.”

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, will use what are known as “permission screens” – pages filled with text that require pressing a button to advance – to notify and obtain approval.

The screens will show up on the Facebook website and smartphone app in Europe this week and globally in the coming months, Sherman said.

The screens will not give Facebook users the option to hit “decline.” Instead, they will guide users to either “accept and continue” or “manage data setting,” according to copies the company showed reporters on Tuesday.

“People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want,” Sherman said.

Regulators, investors and privacy advocates are closely watching how Facebook plans to comply with the EU law, not only because Facebook has been embroiled in a privacy scandal but also because other companies may follow its lead in trying to limit the impact of opt-outs.

Last month, Facebook disclosed that the personal information of millions of users, mostly in the United States, had wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, leading to U.S. congressional hearings and worldwide scrutiny of Facebook’s commitment to privacy.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner warned in February the company could see a drop-off in usage due to the EU law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Lisa Shumaker

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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
August 22, 2017 1:00 pm|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
August 21, 2017 11:45 pm|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
August 20, 2017 8:00 am|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
August 17, 2017 1:50 pm|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
August 14, 2017 7:40 pm|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?
May 20, 2017 5:40 am|Comments (0)

Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know?

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is totally onto the Russian spies trying to recruit him. But knowing he’s a target doesn’t necessarily protect him from their influence. The post Even If Dana Rohrabacher Was a Russian Asset, Would He Know? appeared first on WIRED.
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Cloud education struggling at US universities – meaning an even wider skills gap
May 19, 2017 4:25 pm|Comments (0)

Cloud computing skills are certainly in demand, whether it is microservices, containers, or DevOps. Yet according to a new US study, colleges and …
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