Apology after Japanese train departs 20 seconds early

A bullet train in Tokyo, Japan

A rail company in Japan has apologised after one of its trains departed 20 seconds early.

Management on the Tsukuba Express line between Tokyo and the city of Tsukuba say they “sincerely apologise for the inconvenience” caused.

In a statement, the company said the train had been scheduled to leave at 9:44:40 local time but left at 9:44:20.

Many social media users reacted to the company’s apology with surprise.

The mistake happened because staff had not checked the timetable, the company statement said.

“The crew did not sufficiently check the departure time and performed the departure operation,” it said.

  • Cats invited on to local Japan train

It added that no customers had complained about the early departure from Minami Nagareyama Station, which is just north of Tokyo.

The Tsukuba Express line takes passengers from Akihabara in eastern Tokyo to Tsukuba in about 45 minutes.

It is rare for trains in Japan, which has one of the world’s most reliable railways, to depart at a different time to the one scheduled.

The country’s Tokaido line, which runs from Tokyo to the city of Kobe, is by far the world’s busiest and carries nearly 150 million passengers a year.

Impressed railway users worldwide tweeted the story to their local train operators – particularly in Britain, where rail services are often delayed.

 

UK cyber-defence chief accuses Russia of hack attacks

Power plant

One of the UK’s cyber-defence chiefs has accused Russia of having attacked Britain’s media, telecommunications and energy sectors over the past year.

Ciaran Martin, chief executive of GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), added that Russia was “seeking to undermine the international system”.

His comments were made at an event organised by the Times newspaper.

Ahead of the speech, the paper reported that one of the attacks had targeted the UK’s power supply on election day.

The Russian Embassy in London said it was concerned the assertions were misleading.

The NCSC was established about a year ago. Last month, it revealed that it had already classed a total of 590 attacks – from a variety of perpetrators – as being “significant”, and that more than 30 incidents had been judged serious enough to require a cross-government response.

Mr Martin’s accusations follow Prime Minister Theresa May’s own claim that Russia had “mounted a sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption”.

The NCSC chief referenced this in his own speech.

“The prime minister made the point on Monday night – international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded,” he said.

“This is clearly a cause for concern and the NCSC is actively engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat.”

However, Russia has suggested the accusations are “non-transparent and biased”.

“We would be interested in finding out the details and seeing the original findings on which the statements are based,” the country’s London embassy said.

“It would be most unfortunate to see [Britain] informed by wrong intelligence.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The London-based National Cyber Security Centre was launched in October 2016

To coincide with its event, the Times also published details of a new study into how Russia used Twitter to influence 2016’s Brexit referendum.

The research indicates that more than 156,000 Russia-based accounts – many of them automated bots – mentioned #Brexit in original posts or retweets in the days surrounding the vote.

Many were in favour of the UK leaving the European Union, but a minority were pro-Remain. The academics involved believed the posts were seen hundreds of millions of times.

One of the researchers told the BBC that social media was providing Russia with a relatively cheap way to spread its propaganda.

‘Powerful tool’

“Ukraine experienced [a similar] information war in 2014 – and if it worked in Ukraine it can also work in Western democracies,” said Prof Sasha Talavera from Swansea University.

“One can use it to split society and marginalise groups. Social media nowadays is a powerful tool.”

He added that some form of regulation of the large social media firms might now be required.

The Guardian reports details of a separate University of Edinburgh study that also presents evidence of Russia using Twitter to sway opinion in the lead-up to the Brexit vote.

The Kremlin has previously denied trying to meddle in the referendum.

But the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins, said he now wanted Twitter to share examples of tweets linked to a Russian “troll factory”, known as the Internet Research Agency, about British politics.

Cyberbullying: Mum’s story of loss inspires prince to act

Felix Alexander

The Duke of Cambridge, inspired by a mother’s story of loss, has launched a code of conduct to beat cyberbullying.

Lucy Alexander’s son, Felix, killed himself aged 17 after years of being bullied on social media.

The prince, together with tech firms, children’s charities and parents, wants young people to follow the equivalent of a Green Cross Code for the internet – to “stop, speak, support”.

Facebook and Snapchat are also set to trial giving access to counselling.

Other firms, including Google and EE, have also taken part in the project.

At the final meeting of the cyberbullying taskforce at Google’s HQ in London, Prince William urged tech giants to “innovate, collaborate and educate” people on the dangers of cyberbullying.

“You’ve heard me say before that this is a personal issue for me,” he told representatives from Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Vodafone.

“My work with the air ambulance saw a lot of suicide, some of it from bullying, some from other areas of life.”

The aim of the new code of conduct is to encourage 11 to 16-year-olds across the UK to stop negative behaviour, tell a responsible adult and support victims of bullying.

The Duke of Cambridge became interested in helping to tackle the issue shortly after his son Prince George was born, when he first heard about Felix Alexander.

‘Ate away at him

In a moving video filmed to highlight the project, Lucy Alexander, from Worcester, told the prince about her son Felix.

“Social media was his life. It was the way everyone communicated, and if you weren’t on it, you were isolated.

“If he was invited to a party, someone would text saying: ‘You don’t want to invite him. Everyone hates him’.

“And all he saw was negative. He saw himself as stupid and ugly,” she told the prince.

“It just ate away at him inside, I think, but I had no idea of the depth of his despair at all.”

She believes the prince’s initiative could have helped her son in his darkest times.

“It may not have changed my story, but it’s got to be a step forward,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.


What is cyberbullying?

It’s bullying behaviour on social networks, games and mobile phones, which can include spreading rumours about someone, or posting mean or embarrassing messages, photos or video.

The NSPCC says children may know who is behind the bullying, and it may be an extension of bullying in school or elsewhere. Or the bully may be targeting someone using a fake or anonymous account.

Cyberbullying can happen at any time and anywhere, even when a child is alone in their bedroom, making it feel as if there is no escape.


Prince William also heard from Chloe Hine, who, aged 13, tried to take her own life after enduring sustained online abuse.

“You can’t escape it. You’re constantly with that bully,” she said.

She described being part of a group who turned on her after she said something they didn’t want to hear.

They decided they should all hate her and would twist her words, she said.

“Then it kind of spiralled out of control from there.”

The prince highlighted the danger of anonymous bullying – which he says can come directly into a young person’s bedroom but remain invisible to those around them.

“It is one thing when it happens in the playground and it’s visible there and parents and teachers and other children can see it.

“Online, you’re the only one who sees it, and it’s so personal. It goes straight to your room.” he said.

He also warned against cyber-bullies being able to ignore the real-world consequences of their actions.

“I think it is worth reminding everyone that the human tragedy of what we are talking about here isn’t just about companies and online stuff – it’s actually real lives that get affected,” he added.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, taskforce chairman Brent Hoberman said William was instrumental in doing something that “almost no-one can do” by bringing together top representatives of rival companies.

He said he wanted to see the trial to give young people access to a counsellor rolled out universally.

Asked whether the onus should be on the tech firms to remove the bullying posts or messages, he told BBC’s Today programme that removing them may not be as effective as helping the young person emotionally.

The message, he said, to young people was “don’t be bystanders – step up speak out, stop this”.

The responsibility to deal with this was “everywhere”, he added.


What to do if your child is being cyberbullied

Talk about it – find the right time to approach them with your concerns.

Show your support – stay calm, be considered and tell them how you will help them.

Don’t necessarily stop them going online – this can make them feel more isolated.

Help them to deal with it – advise them to tell the person how it makes them feel and ask them to take any pictures or comments down.

Don’t retaliate – advise them against responding to abusive messages and to leave uncomfortable conversations.

Block the bullies – if messages continue, block the sender and report them to the social network or gaming platform.

Keep the evidence – take screenshots as proof.

Don’t deal with it alone – talk to friends or your child’s school for support.

Know when to take it further – consider telling the police if your child is in danger.

Don’t stop when the bullying stops – keep talking and consider counselling.

Star Wars Battlefront II game faces further backlash

Scene from Star Wars Battlefront II

Games publisher EA has faced further criticism over its latest Star Wars game, Battlefront II.

Many players were unhappy about the credits that unlock key Star Wars characters.

The number required has now been reduced but so has the number that can be earned through gameplay. The alternative is to purchase them.

Others have complained about the use of “loot crates” – which some say are essentially a gambling tool.

The crates are virtual boxes that are purchased within the game and contain mystery bonuses.

Critics say they promote gambling as the contents of the boxes are revealed only after payment is received, and some are more useful than others.

Electronic Arts (EA) has been contacted by the BBC for comment.

Image copyright Reddit
Image caption A poster campaign on Reddit protests against loot crates

The firm is hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on community news site Reddit later on Wednesday to address concerns.

EA said yesterday that it was reducing the number of credits required to unlock key characters, including Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, following complaints that they could only be purchased or acquired through very long hours of gameplay, despite being an essential part of a Star Wars experience.

However, there are reports that the number of credits that can be earned by completing a campaign has been reduced as well.

Image copyright EA

In a statement, the developer Dice said it wanted players to “have fun earning” the achievement of unlocking the franchise’s heroes.

The alternative is to buy them – but many players believe there should not be in-game micropayments in a full-price title.

Star Wars Battlefront II is available for £49.99 – £69.99 in the UK, or $60 in the US.

Credits earned through gameplay are not only reduced but also subject to a daily cap, players say.

“The most damning show of the game basically saying, ‘We want you to pay to win’ is a limit being put on the number of credits a player can earn in Arcade mode,” wrote Andrew Reiner in a review for Game Informer.

“After finishing five Arcade challenges, the player is told to come back in 14 hours to earn more.”

He described the game as “big, bombastic and fun” but added that it was “diseased by an insidious microtransaction model that creates an uneven battlefield, favouring those who are willing to spend real money to gain an edge over players who are just here to enjoy the Star Wars experience”.

Entertainment analyst Ed Barton from Ovum told the BBC the micropayments business model had transferred from mobile gaming, which tends to be free to download.

 

“Free-to-play mechanics are increasingly encroaching into full-price games,” he said.

“These are commercial organisations, of course they are going to look for ways to leverage their intellectual property. Publishers have done this before.

“Look at what Blizzard is doing with loot boxes in Overwatch – it has been a successful business for them.

“But what they put in those loot boxes are cosmetic items. They don’t affect gameplay. And you can also earn all the items through gameplay.

“The Star Wars experience without Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader strikes me as not the experience people would look for. The controversy is, ‘I’ve paid $60, let me have the experience.'”

Google Docs offline for ‘significant’ number of users

Google logo

Google Docs was inaccessible for a “significant subset” of users on Wednesday.

The company confirmed the issue on its status page but did not offer more information.

Docs is a core feature of Google’s cloud computing service.

A spokeswoman for Google would not confirm to the BBC how many users encountered the problem, but said she did not believe any customers who paid for extra storage were affected.

Problems were reported by users trying to access the programs across the world.

Downdetector.com, which tracks outages around the world, suggested US users were having the most significant issues – though there were some reports in Europe, where the outage occurred at a time that was outside of typical hours for most business.

The down time lasted for between 30 minutes and an hour, during which many people used Twitter to complain.

Image copyright DownDetector
Image caption A map showing reports of Google Docs being inaccessible

At 2209 GMT the Twitter account for Google Docs said: “Docs is back up for most users, and we expect a full resolution for all users shortly.

“Sorry for this disruption and thanks again for your patience with us.”

It is the second time in recent weeks that Google Docs users have been left frustrated by glitches in the system.

In October some users were locked out of a files after they were wrongly tagged as being “inappropriate” content. The company apologised for the disruption.

Cloud computing – where files are stored and edited on the internet rather than locally on your computer – is a major part of the technology sector.

Those services remaining stable and reliable is crucial for businesses that rely on the software for day-to-day work.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the market leader by revenue, but it is not immune to down time – an incident at the start of this year saw more than 150,000 websites taken offline due to an Amazon fault.

Update Thursday 16 November:

Google’s service status page said the problem had now been resolved.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support,” it added.

“Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better.”

Jack Dorsey saddened by Japan’s ‘Twitter killer’

Takahiro Shiraishi

Twitter’s chief executive has said a case in which an alleged serial killer is said to have lured victims by searching the social network for suicidal thoughts is “extremely sad”.

But Jack Dorsey added that it was not realistic to expect the service to auto-delete the kind of tweets said to have been involved.

A 27-year-old man was arrested in Zama, Japan, in October after nine people’s body parts were found in his flat.

Newspapers call him the Twitter killer.

Local reports claim Takahiro Shiraishi contacted his victims – the youngest of whom was 15 – via the social network by telling them he could help them die and in some cases claiming he would kill himself alongside them.

His Twitter profile contained the words: “I want to help people who are really in pain. Please DM [direct message] me anytime.”

‘Positive and healthy’

He is also alleged to have killed the boyfriend of one of the women, who had apparently come looking for her.

According to various reports, Shiraishi has confessed his involvement to the police, but to date he formally faces only charges of abandoning a body.

Four days after his arrest, Twitter amended its rules to state members should not “promote or encourage suicide or self-harm”.

But with the case in the spotlight, the Japanese government has indicated it may introduce new regulations to tackle “problematic” websites on which suicide is discussed.

Mr Dorsey gave his first interview about the affair to Japanese broadcast NHK.

“We need to take on a responsibility to make sure our tool is being used in positive and healthy ways,” he said.

But he added that simply deleting suicidal comments would not prevent people killing themselves and that helping connect the right kinds of people could help.

Cash Converters reveals customer data breach

Cash Converters

High Street pawnbroker Cash Converters has warned customers about a data breach on its website.

The company said customer usernames, passwords and addresses had potentially been accessed by a third party.

The data breach exposed accounts on the company’s old UK website, which was replaced in September 2017.

The company told the BBC it was taking the breach “extremely seriously” and had reported it to the information commissioner.

Cash Converters lets people trade in items such as jewellery and electronics for cash, and then sells the items on to others.

It operates an online store that lets people buy items traded in at Cash Converters shops around the UK.

The online store was relaunched in September 2017, and the data breach affected only people with an account on the old website.

Cash Converters said no credit card information had been breached, and people who visited its stores but did not use the website had not been affected.

“Our customers truly are at the heart of everything we do, and we are disappointed that they may have been affected,” the company said in a statement.

“We apologise for this situation and are taking immediate action to address it.”

Kaspersky defends its role in NSA breach

Eugene Kaspersky

The Russian-headquartered anti-virus company Kaspersky Lab has hit back at reports it deliberately extracted sensitive files from a US National Security Agency worker’s computer.

The allegations stem from a Wall Street Journal report in early October.

Russian hackers had used Kaspersky software to identify classified files on the NSA contractor’s home computer, which they then stole, it said.

It later emerged Kaspersky had also copied files off the PC itself.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption An NSA contractor was said to have installed Kaspersky’s software on a personal computer

But the company has now said this was not deliberate and any classified documents were destroyed.

It said its researchers had been investigating malicious software created by “the Equation Group”, which is widely understood to be Kaspersky’s codeword for the NSA.

And this research had included looking for signatures relating to known Equation activity on machines running the company’s software.

On 11 September 2014, the company said, one of its products deployed on a home computer with an internet protocol (IP) address in Baltimore, Maryland – close to where the NSA is based – had reported what appeared to be variants of the malware used by the Equation Group.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kaspersky Lab denies sharing any of the copied archive’s files with third parties

Soon after, the user had disabled the Kaspersky Lab anti-virus tool and downloaded and installed pirated software infected with another, separate form of malware.

And when the Kaspersky product had been re-activated, it had also detected this malware and new variants of Equation malware inside a 7zip archive – a file containing compressed documents.

This had been sent back to Kaspersky Lab and found to contain known and unknown Equation tools, source code and classified documents, indicating the user of the computer had been not a victim of Equation but one of its authors.

Eugene Kaspersky, the company’s founder and chief executive, had then ordered the classified data should be deleted from the company’s systems, and within days it had been.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The scandal overshadowed Kaspersky’s 20th anniversary celebrations earlier this month

Kaspersky had kept only the malware “binaries”, computer code necessary to improve protection for its customers.

“According to security software industry standards, requesting a copy of an archive containing malware is a legitimate request,” the firm said.

“We also found no indication the information ever left our corporate networks.”

The Wall Street Journal report had said the Russian government had secretly scanned computers using Kaspersky software to spy on the US government – not necessarily with the company’s knowledge.

Israeli intelligence

Kaspersky denies creating “signatures” specifically designed to search for top secret or classified material.

And it has now said the only third-party intrusion in its networks was by Duqu 2.0 – malware linked to Israeli intelligence.

Following the Wall Street Journal report, the New York Times had reported that Israel had penetrated Kaspersky’s networks in 2014 and alerted the US to the possibility of Kaspersky software being used for espionage.

Kaspersky has also said the separate form of malware not linked to the Equation Group that it had detected on the Maryland PC, had been Smoke Bot or Smoke Loader, a Trojan created by a Russian hacker in 2012 and sold on Russian underground forums.

Prime target

And during this period the command-and-control servers of this malware were registered to what appeared to be a Chinese entity.

“Given that system owner’s potential clearance level, the user could have been a prime target of nation states,” the Kaspersky spokesman said.

US federal agencies have now been told to remove all Kaspersky software from their computers.

The Kaspersky spokesman said: “Kaspersky Lab security software, like all other similar solutions from our competitors, has privileged access to computer systems to be able to resist serious malware infections and return control of the infected system back to the user,” the company says in its statement.

“This level of access allows our software to see any file on the systems that we protect. With great access comes great responsibility.”

Far-right accounts lose Twitter verified tick

Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson

Twitter has stripped several far-right accounts of their “verified” badge, after changing its policy.

Among them are Jason Kessler who helped organise a far-right march in Charlottesville, and white supremacist Richard Spencer.

English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson also had his badge removed.

Twitter said the badge was being interpreted as an “endorsement or an indicator of importance” and said it would change the scheme.

‘Promotes hate’

The blue badge was first introduced to indicate the authenticity of prominent profiles on the social network.

Originally the site had chosen who to verify, and usually reserved the status for celebrities, public officials and journalists.

In July 2016, it opened the scheme up to the wider public and let anybody apply for a verified badge.

Last week, the social network was criticised for giving Mr Kessler a verified badge, and on 9 November halted its verified profile scheme.

It said it had not intended the blue badge to be an endorsement of views shared.

“We gave verified accounts visual prominence on the service which deepened this perception,” it said. “We should have addressed this earlier but did not prioritise the work as we should have.”

Twitter said it was designing a new “authentication and verification programme”, but in the meantime would “remove verification from accounts whose behaviour does not fall within the new guidelines”.

The new guidelines say verified status can be lost if a person breaks Twitter’s rules or “promotes hate” on the basis of “race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease”.

It said behaviour both on and off Twitter would be taken into account.

Some of those who had their verified badges removed said the new policy was being applied inconsistently and highlighted accounts of disgraced celebrities that had not lost the icon.

Mr Kessler suggested Twitter had changed its rules to “censor” his views, while Mr Robinson said Twitter now classed the truth as “hate speech”.

Tesla unveils first truck – and roadster

Tesla has unveiled its first electric articulated lorry, designed to challenge diesel trucks as king of the road.

The long-anticipated Tesla Semi has a range of 500 miles on a single charge.

Tesla says the vehicle – known in the US as a semi-trailer truck – will go into production in 2019.

Chief executive Elon Musk also unexpectedly revealed a new Roadster, which he said would be “the fastest production car ever” made.

The red sports car was driven out of the trailer of the electric lorry during Tesla’s presentation on Thursday.

The Roadster will have a range of close to 1,000km (620 miles) on a single charge and will do 0-100mph in 4.2 seconds.

Mr Musk described it as “a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars”.

He said riding in traditional cars would be like driving “a steam engine with a side of quiche”. The new Roadster becomes available in 2020.

Tesla Roadster

The Tesla Semi will achieve 0-60mph in 20 seconds when pulling 36,287kgs (80,000lbs), the maximum allowed on US roads.

Speaking on stage at Tesla’s facility in Los Angeles, chief executive Elon Musk said: “It’s not like any truck that you’ve ever driven.”

However, the charismatic Mr Musk faces continued pressure from investors and customers as the firm struggles to meet demand for its Model 3 car.

Model 3 delays

The Model 3 is behind schedule due to factory delays, a situation Mr Musk described recently as “production hell”.

The 46-year-old had been camping at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, to oversee battery production for the new cars. However, while the company had predicted it would make 1,500 Model 3 cars in the third quarter of 2017, in reality it only managed 260.

  Model 3 delivery
Image caption Tesla said it won’t reach its production target of 5,000 Model 3 cars per week until 2018

Depending on your opinion of Mr Musk, launching a new truck at this time is either a bold statement of belief in his technology, and business as usual, or a foolish distraction from Tesla’s main goal of making its Model 3 a mainstream, affordable car.

There are elements of the Model 3 in the Tesla Semi. Each of its wheels is powered by a Model 3 motor, and the cab features two of the touch screens displays found in the Model 3.

Competitive market

With Tesla Semi, Mr Musk enters a competitive, demanding market. There are an estimated 3.5 million truck drivers in the US, the vast majority of whom drive diesel-powered engines. Tesla will not be able to compete on diesel’s range, and battery specialists doubt Tesla can produce a powerful enough battery at a reasonable price.

“A 300-mile-capable battery pack costs about $200,000,” a Carnegie Mellon study concluded.

“Which is much higher than a diesel-powered semi-truck, which costs about $120,000, on average, for the entire vehicle.”

Image copyright Tesla

Mr Musk said the Tesla Semi would be able to travel 643km (400 miles) after 30 minutes of charge at one of Tesla’s new mega-chargers.

The cost?

As for cost, the company said that per mile the Tesla Semi would work out cheaper than a diesel equivalent when fuel and other maintenance is taken into consideration – but did not share the cost of an individual truck.

The Diesel Technology Forum, a non-profit trade group that promotes the use of diesel, said Tesla’s announcement needed to be “evaluated in the context of reality”.

“Diesel is the most energy efficient internal combustion engine,” Allen Schaeffer, the forum’s executive director.

“It has achieved dominance as the technology of choice in the trucking industry over many decades and challenges from many other fuel types.

“Still, today, diesel offers a unique combination of unmatched features: proven fuel efficiency, economical operation, power, reliability, durability, availability, easy access to fuelling and service facilities, and now near-zero emissions performance.”

As well as coming up against diesel incumbents, Tesla also faces other electric rivals. Concept electric big rigs have been unveiled by Daimler, Volkswagen and Cummins – though all fall short on range, and none are currently on the roads.

Where Tesla believes it can bring an added advantage is with on-board safety and comfort.

A statement from Tesla boasted that “jackknifing is prevented due to the Semi’s onboard sensors that detect instability and react with positive or negative torque to each wheel while independently actuating all brakes”.

“The surround cameras aid object detection and minimise blind spots, automatically alerting the driver to safety hazards and obstacles.

“With Enhanced Autopilot, the Tesla Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping and Lane Departure Warning.”

Autopilot is Tesla’s autonomous driving function that offers several self-driving features, most importantly guiding the vehicle to stay within the lines on the road, and slowing down in keeping with traffic up ahead.