Teenager finds FaceTime flaw

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Grant Thompson and his mother, Michele, look at an iPhone in the family's kitchen in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The 14-year-old stumbled upon a bug in the iPhone's FaceTime group-chatting feature on Jan. 19 while calling his friends to play a video game. With the bug, a FaceTime group-chat user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio, even if the receiver did not accept the call. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

Grant Thompson and his mother, Michele, look at an iPhone in the family's kitchen in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The 14-year-old stumbled upon a bug in the iPhone's FaceTime group-chatting feature on Jan. 19 while calling his friends to play a video game. With the bug, a FaceTime group-chat user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio, even if the receiver did not accept the call. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

14-year-old’s FaceTime bug discovery could rattle Apple


AP Technology Writer

Sunday, February 3

At the heart of Apple’s shocking FaceTime bug, which allowed just about anyone to turn an iPhone into a live microphone, stands a 14-year-old boy who stumbled upon the eavesdropping flaw more than a week before Apple took action.

“The thing that surprised me the most was that this glitch happened in the first place,” said Grant Thompson, a high school freshman in Tucson, Arizona. “I’m only 14 and I found it by accident, instead of the people at Apple that get paid to find glitches.”

Not only that, but Grant and his mom said they spent a week unsuccessfully trying to get Apple to do something about the bug in its FaceTime group-chatting feature. The bug allowed callers to activate another person’s microphone remotely even before the person has accepted or rejected the call.

“It took nine days for us to get a response,” he said. “My mom contacted them almost every single day through email, calling, faxing.” Of the fax, he jokes, “I’m not even sure what that is. It’s probably older than I am.”

This eavesdropping scare is over now that Apple has disabled group chats, but the problem could dog the company for much longer. New York state officials have opened a consumer rights investigation. Others are raising questions about how long it took Apple to address the bug.

In a statement Friday, Apple thanked the Thompsons as it announced that it has identified a fix and will release it next week. FaceTime group chatting will resume then.

Grant, a straight-A student who plays basketball, does community volunteering and enjoys the video game “Fortnite,” was calling friends to play the game on a Saturday night, Jan. 19, when he discovered the flaw.

“If a 14-year-old kid discovered it, I wonder how many other people discovered it,” said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer with the security firm Veracode.

Apple hasn’t said whether it has records that could answer that question.

Friday’s statement said Apple’s engineers worked quickly once it got the details needed to reproduce the bug. Although Apple didn’t acknowledge a delay, the company said it was “committed to improving the process by which we receive and escalate these reports, in order to get them to the right people as fast as possible.”

The company — at first widely praised for its swift response — could come under increased scrutiny as regulators seek to learn more about the vulnerability.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that they’re investigating “Apple’s failure to warn consumers about the FaceTime bug and slow response to addressing the issue.”

They said the bug jeopardized the privacy of New York consumers. James said her office’s review will include a “thorough investigation into Apple’s response.”

Last October, Apple introduced the 32-person video conferencing feature for iPhones, iPads and Macs. With the bug, a FaceTime group-chat user calling another Apple device could hear audio — even if the receiver didn’t accept the call. The bug was triggered when callers turned a regular FaceTime call into a group chat, making FaceTime think the receiver had accepted the chat.

In Grant’s case, he had just gotten his Xbox ready and called to invite a friend, Nathan, to play “Fortnite” with him online.

“You can swipe up and add another person, so I added another friend of mine, Diego, to see if he also wanted to play,” he said. “But as soon as I added Diego, it forced Nathan to respond.”

They were shocked at first, then tried to repeat the bug and it happened every time, he said. His mother, Michele Thompson, said she started trying to reach Apple the next day.

“They could have tested it within two minutes, realized it was true and brought it up the chain at Apple,” said Thompson, who works as an attorney. “There needs to be a better process for the average citizen to report things like this. And a timelier response.”

She eventually reached someone who advised that she could register as a software developer to submit the bug. Such reports can sometimes lead to “bug bounties” so that those who discover a flaw can get a financial reward. The family hoped Grant could receive such an award, or at least some credit, for his discovery.

“Every day he would ask me, ‘Did we hear from Apple yet?’ she said.

The family tried reaching Apple through multiple channels. They left comments on Twitter, one of them directed to CEO Tim Cook, and uploaded a video to walk Apple engineers through the problem. But it wasn’t until a tech blog reported the flaw earlier this week — leading many people to experiment with the spying bug themselves — that Apple took the unusual measure of temporarily shutting down the group-chat feature.

Apple has declined to say when it learned about the problem. The company also wouldn’t say if it has logs that could show if anyone took advantage of the bug before it became publicly known this week. The company reached out to the Thompson family on Tuesday offering to give some public credit for their efforts, according to an email Michele Thompson shared with The Associated Press.

“It would be cool to just have Apple say thanks to me,” Grant Thompson said before Friday’s announcement from Apple. “And of course, the bug bounty, that would be pretty awesome to get, but as long as we got rid of this pretty groundbreaking bug, and Apple said thank you, that would be pretty cool.”

A robust US job market likely defied shutdown during January


AP Economics Writer

Friday, February 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers likely kept adding jobs at a healthy pace in January even in the face of threats ranging from weakening global growth to the Trump administration’s trade war with China to the partial shutdown of the government.

On Friday, the Labor Department will issue the monthly employment report, the first major economic report to cover most of the 35-day shutdown period that ended a week ago.

Economists have forecast that employers added 165,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate remained at a low 3.9 percent, according to data provider FactSet. The predicted job gain would be a solid one, though it would follow a blowout figure of 312,000 jobs that were added in December.

The partial government shutdown, the longest on record, isn’t expected to have had a significant effect on the January jobs report. That’s because of how the government will categorize the 800,000 federal workers who weren’t paid for five weeks. All will be counted as employed in the government’s count of jobs in January. That means the economy will almost certainly record the 100th straight month of job gains, a record.

Still, some of the roughly 380,000 federal workers who didn’t work and weren’t paid might be counted as unemployed in a separate survey the government uses to calculate the unemployment rate. If so, this could inflate the jobless rate by 0.2 percentage point, economists say, though the effect would be reversed in February as federal employees return to work.

Unlike some government agencies, the Labor Department received its annual funding before the shutdown and has operated normally throughout.

“The shutdown was very traumatic for federal workers, but it will probably not show up in most of the data for private sector workers,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for the employment site Glassdoor.

One unknown factor is the impact of the shutdown on government contractors, who perform a wide range of jobs — from janitorial work to data management. Some of them who were furloughed may receive back pay. But some won’t, and they could contribute to a higher unemployment rate and lower job count.

Still, a solid jobs report would provide reassurance that the economy remains mostly healthy and likely to shake off any effects of the shutdown. One positive sign emerged Wednesday from the payroll processing company ADP. Its survey found that private businesses added more than 200,000 jobs in January. The ADP data doesn’t cover government workers and doesn’t always mirror the government’s official monthly jobs report. But it suggests that the shutdown had little effect on private-sector hiring last month.

In another encouraging sign, the number of people seeking first-time unemployment benefits reached a 49-year low two weeks ago, though the figure jumped higher last week.

“The fact that the labor market is hanging so tough is a reason for optimism,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which helps compile the ADP data. “As long as we are producing jobs at this pace, the economy will do OK.”

The government shutdown will probably end up slowing the economy’s growth for the first three months of the year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown lowered annual growth for the January-March quarter by about 0.4 percentage point, to a rate of 2.1 percent. Thousands of government workers who missed two paychecks slowed their spending. The federal government itself also spent less.

In addition, many businesses across the country lost income. Tourists cut back on visits to national parks, for example, thereby hurting nearby restaurants and hotels.

Yet even employers whose revenue dropped might have held onto their workers during January, Zandi said. With unemployment so low and many companies struggling to fill jobs, layoffs might not have been widespread.

Chamberlain said that Glassdoor’s data shows the number of job postings rose nearly 9 percent in late January compared with a year earlier, suggesting that demand for labor remained strong.

The shutdown has delayed the release of a range of government data about the economy, including statistics on housing, factory orders, and fourth-quarter growth.

The reports that have been released have been mixed. The Federal Reserve’s industrial production report showed that manufacturing output rose in December by the most in nearly a year, boosted by auto production.

But consumer confidence fell in January for a third straight month as Americans’ optimism dimmed amid the shutdown and sharp drops in the stock market. Falling confidence can cause consumers to restrain their spending, though economists note that confidence typically returns quickly after shutdowns end.

The housing market has clearly slumped as mortgage rates have increased. Sales of existing homes plunged in December and fell 3.1 percent in 2018 from the previous year. Mortgage rates have fallen back after nearly touching 5 percent last year, but the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes still declined in December.

China’s economy is decelerating sharply and Italy’s economy has entered recession, exacerbating fears that slower global growth will cut into U.S. exports.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday cited the weaker global economy as a key reason why the central bank will be “patient” before it raises its benchmark interest rate again. That was a sharp turnaround from January, when Fed policymakers forecast two additional hikes for this year.

Sen. Portman pushing bill to end future government shutdowns

Sen. Rob Portman is backing a bill to end government shutdowns for once and for all.

For five Congresses now, Portman, R-Ohio, has pushed a bill that would automatically renew government funding if Congress and the White House can’t reach a deal to pass appropriations bills by the beginning of the new fiscal year.

This year, he’s got a new partner in the fight: Rep. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican, introduced a House version of the bill late Friday, just as the latest shutdown was coming to an end.

Their bills come with repercussions aimed at keeping Congress from just passing the same spending bills at last year’s levels without the sort of oversight that the Constitution requires.

After 120 days, if Congress still didn’t pass its spending bills, they’d reduce spending levels across the board by one percent. After 90 days, it would go down another one percent. The idea, Portman said, is to provide a threat to motivate Congress to act. Every Congress he introduces the bill. Every Congress it goes nowhere. But this year, Portman said, may be different: The bill was introduced on the heels of a 35-day-long shutdown that was the longest in the nation’s history. There’s also a level of urgency: Congress has fewer than three weeks before the current agreement, which runs through Feb. 15, expires. But Portman’s idea is the one that seems to have the most support.

Portman had 18 cosponsors, all Republican, as of Friday and he expected to have 20 by the end of Monday. And Democratic interest is there. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have embraced the idea conceptually; whether that means they’ll support Portman’s bill is yet to be seen.

Portman says now is the time to change process “I think there’s more appetite for this bill today than I’ve ever seen,” Portman said, saying this most recent shutdown made Democrats and Republicans alike realize shutdowns “are only effective at hurting taxpayers and government workers.”

Balderson, meanwhile, who is still in his first few months of Congress, never thought this would be the first bill he’d introduce. “It was the farthest thing from my mind,” he said, saying he would never have anticipated starting this Congress with part of the government shut down. He said, though, that the bill is a worthwhile one to introduce. Shutdowns, he said, are “not fair” to government employees or taxpayers. “We pay our people when they work,” he said. “To not pay Americans when they do their job is just not fair.” He’s already got a Democratic cosponsor on his bill — Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — and said he’s working the phones to gather more cosponsors. He doesn’t think it will be difficult to get support. “It’s not really going to be that hard to sell it,” he said. “All I have to say is how unfair this is to the American people. There’s no greater talking point than that.”

How President Donald Trump feels about the bill is to be seen. Asked about it at a White House briefing Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The hypotheticals of taking that off the table — I haven’t seen a piece of legislation for us to even consider at this point that would make that a reality but what I do know is the president is committed to fixing the problem.” Portman said the bipartisan group he’s worked with is hopeful that the ultimate immigration agreement will do two things: Give Democrats some wins on immigration, such as an agreement allowing those brought here illegally as children to stay in the country; give Republicans a win with border security money and finally, end shutdowns forever.

“It’s a tight turnaround,” Portman acknowledged, but said, “It’s been introduced in the last five Congresses, so there’s been plenty of vetting of it.”

(Sen. Portman pushing bill to end future government shutdowns. Dayton Daily News. January 28, 2019. Provided by Portman’s office.)

Time parents spend with children key to academic success

Study used parental death, divorce to measure impact

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The time parents spend with their children has a powerful effect on their educational achievement, according to a large study with a novel approach.

Researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce.

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

“In the ongoing debate over what helps children succeed academically, we show that genetics is not the only major factor,” said Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University.

“It is also about the time that parents spend with their children.”

The research was conducted by Eric Gould and Avi Simhon of Hebrew University in Israel, as well as Weinberg. The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Labor Economics and will be published Feb. 4, 2018 on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce.

The researchers looked at whether these children passed the “matriculation exam,” a high-stakes test required to attend college. About 57 percent of high-school students in the country pass the test.

The researchers started the study by looking at children who experienced the death of one parent, Weinberg said.

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

URL : http://news.osu.edu/time-parents-spend-with-children-key-to-academic-success/

Grant Thompson and his mother, Michele, look at an iPhone in the family’s kitchen in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The 14-year-old stumbled upon a bug in the iPhone’s FaceTime group-chatting feature on Jan. 19 while calling his friends to play a video game. With the bug, a FaceTime group-chat user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio, even if the receiver did not accept the call. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122253856-57fa3252d78d47a7942e41c89edece35.jpgGrant Thompson and his mother, Michele, look at an iPhone in the family’s kitchen in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The 14-year-old stumbled upon a bug in the iPhone’s FaceTime group-chatting feature on Jan. 19 while calling his friends to play a video game. With the bug, a FaceTime group-chat user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio, even if the receiver did not accept the call. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
U.S. News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports