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Tech that can help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions

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Tech that can help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions

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Red Cross implores hackers not to leak data for 515k “highly vulnerable people”

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Red Cross implores hackers not to leak data for 515k “highly vulnerable people”

RED CROSS HACK —

Hack on Red Cross storage contractor follows a separate hacking incident last year.


People in Red Cross vests walk along a dirt street.

The Red Cross on Wednesday pleaded with the threat actors behind a cyberattack that stole the personal data of about 515,000 people who used a program that works to reunite family members separated by conflict, disaster or migration.

“While we don’t know who is responsible for this attack, or why they carried it out, we do have this appeal to make to them,” Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee for the Red Cross, said in a release. “Your actions could potentially cause yet more harm and pain to those who have already endured untold suffering. The real people, the real families behind the information you now have are among the world’s least powerful. Please do the right thing. Do not share, sell, leak or otherwise use this data.”

Wednesday’s release said the personal data was obtained through the hack of a Switzerland-based subcontractor that stores data for the Red Cross. The data was compiled by at least 60 different Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies worldwide. The ICRC said it has no “immediate indications as to who carried out this cyber-attack” and is so far unaware of any of the compromised information being leaked or shared publicly.

Those affected had used Restore Family Links, a service the Red Cross operates in cooperation with the Red Crescent to reunite families. On Wednesday, the site was down. The Internet Archive last updated it on December 27, raising the possibility of the breach occurring a few weeks ago.

The release provided few details about the attack. It’s not clear if it was done by profit-motivated ransomware criminals, nation-state hackers, or others. Over the past few years, a rash of ransomware breaches has hit healthcare providers, forcing them in many cases to reroute ambulances and cancel elective surgeries. In 2020, the ICRC helped lead a coalition that called on nations around the world to crack down on cyberattacks involving hospitals and healthcare providers.

Last September, the ICRC confirmed it was on the receiving end of a hack the previous April that compromised login credentials and other data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization. The earliest known date the hackers obtained access to the UN’s systems, Bloomberg News reported, was April 5, and the hackers remained active through at least August. The breach came to light when private researchers noticed login credentials for sale on the dark web.

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The real-life gentleman pirate behind HBO Max’s new series Our Flag Means Death

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The real-life gentleman pirate behind HBO Max’s new series Our Flag Means Death

Everybody say Arrgh! —

“It’s swashbuckling! Let’s have fun with it!”


A nervous man in 18th-century garb.

Enlarge / Rhys Darby stars as gentleman pirate Stede Bennett in the upcoming HBO Max comedy series Our Flag Means Death.

It’s no secret that Ars staffers are big Taika Waititi fans. He always brings his distinctly quirky sensibility to his projects, from What We Do in the Shadows, Wellington Paranormal, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to JoJo Rabbit, Reservation Dogs, and Thor: Ragnarok. After filming wrapped on Thor: Love and Thunder last year, Waititi somehow found time to develop a new period comedy series for HBO Max.

It’s called Our Flag Means Death, and HBO just dropped the first teaser. The series is about an aristocrat who abandons his comfy life to become a “gentleman pirate.” Even better: the main character, Stede Bonnet (played by Rhys Darby) is based on a real person who sailed with the infamous 18th-century pirate Blackbeard (played by Waititi in the series).

The real Stede Bonnet was born on the island of Barbados in 1688 to a wealthy English family and inherited a 400-acre estate when his father died in 1694. By some accounts, he was a bookish sort, and his early life was unremarkable. He married, fathered three sons and a daughter, and briefly served in the military as a major, although there is no record that he engaged in active combat.

But at 29, Bonnet experienced some kind of midlife crisis and decided to abandon his family and become a pirate, even though he had zero experience with ships and sailing. Apparently, he was fed up with his wife’s nagging, or as one account put it, he became disillusioned with the “discomforts he found in a married state.” Most pirates seized their ships; Bonnet was a man of means, so he hired a local shipyard to build him a 60-ton sloop with 10 guns. He dubbed the ship Revenge and hired a crew of more than 70 men. Bonnet actually paid the men regular wages rather than splitting plunder with them like a normal pirate.

Bonnet's motley crew is ready to loot and plunder.

Enlarge / Bonnet’s motley crew is ready to loot and plunder.

YouTube/HBO Max

Given Bonnet’s lack of experience, much of the day-to-day sailing operations were handled by his quartermaster and officer, and he doesn’t seem to have won much respect from his crew over the course of his short pirating career. (In fairness, piracy was a dangerous profession and few pirates lived to a ripe old age.) The piracy went well at first: the Revenge captured and plundered some half-dozen vessels between spring and September 1717. But a battle with a Spanish man-of-war left both Bonnet and the ship in a bad way, although both ultimately escaped.

The Revenge next limped into port at Nassau in the Bahamas for repairs, which is when Bonnet met Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach. Given the disabling nature of his injuries, Bonnet ceded command of the Revenge (temporarily, he thought) to Blackbeard. For the next few months, they plundered a lot of ships, and Blackbeard seized and took command of a 200-ton vessel called La Concorde, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Eventually, Bonnet’s frustrated crew deserted him and joined Blackbeard in the spring of 1718, and Blackbeard betrayed Bonnet, placing one of his own henchmen in charge of the Revenge. By now, Bonnet longed to retire from the pirate life, and he actually received a pardon from the governor of North Carolina on condition that he renounce piracy forever. Bonnet tried to keep his promise, but food became scarce right as the Atlantic hurricane season was in full swing, so he resorted to piracy once again under the alias “Captain Thomas.” He gave Revenge a new name, too: Royal James.

Taika Waititi co-stars as Blackbeard.

Enlarge / Taika Waititi co-stars as Blackbeard.

YouTube/HBO Max

All the battles once again took their toll on Royal James, and after it was repaired, Bonnet decided to moor in the Cape Fear River to wait out the hurricane season. News of his presence soon spread to the relevant government authorities, sealing the gentleman pirate’s fate. Bonnet and his men put up a fight against Col. William Rhett’s naval forces, but they lost, and the entire crew was arrested on October 3, 1718. Bonnet was convicted and eventually hanged (after briefly escaping and being recaptured) on December 10, 1718. All told, Bonnet’s life as a pirate lasted less than two years. Then again, if he had just stayed in Barbados and lived out a life of quiet desperation, we likely would not know his name.

Bonnet’s mentor, Blackbeard, didn’t fare much better. In November 1718, just one month before Bonnet was hanged, Teach and his crew engaged in a fierce battle with a small group of sailors led by Lt. Robert Maynard. Eventually, Teach found himself surrounded by Maynard’s men, one of whom slashed him across the neck before the rest of the crew joined in the attack. When Maynard examined the body, he found Teach had been shot five times and cut some 20 times. His head was placed on a pole in Chesapeake Bay for several years to serve as a warning for other pirates.

Based on the teaser for Our Flag Means Death, the series is unlikely to attempt much in the way of historical accuracy, which is the right decision. Tonally, it evokes something along the lines of Hulu’s extraordinary period comedy series, The Great, which takes historical characters and facts and embellishes them, complete with the odd deliberate anachronism. (The credits for The Great claim the show—just renewed for a third season—is “an occasionally true story.”) The Great is a high bar to clear, but this is Taika Waititi we’re talking about, and we have faith in his idiosyncratic vision. We’ll definitely be tuning in.

Our Flag Means Death debuts on HBO Max in March.

Teaser for HBO Max’s new original comedy series, Our Flag Means Death.

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Google brings Android games to Windows in limited (very limited) beta

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Google brings Android games to Windows in limited (very limited) beta

Why these countries? —

Only users in Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have access to a beta signup.


Google's Windows Android app store.

Enlarge / Google’s Windows Android app store.

Google

As it announced in December, Google is bringing Android games to Windows. The project is simply called “Google Play Games,” and the Windows version is now open for beta sign-ups. The catch is that Google Play Games is getting a very limited distribution: you’ll need to be in Korea, Taiwan, or Hong Kong to sign up.

If you manage to get in the beta, Google says you’ll be able to “play a catalog of Google Play games on… Windows PC via a standalone application built by Google.” The company says, “We’re excited to announce that some of the most popular mobile games in the world will be available at launch, including Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Summoners War, State of Survival: The Joker Collaboration, and Three Kingdoms Tactics.” Games that use the Google Play Games cloud to store achievements and progress will be able to have their progress synced across PC and mobile (and Chrome OS, of course).

As for why this is happening, it’s probably in response to Microsoft’s plan to bring Android apps to Windows 11. Microsoft teamed up with Amazon to bring the Amazon App Store catalog to Windows, and now Google is bringing its Android game catalog along, too. This is only games though, not any other type of app. Games have an easier time scaling on bigger screens, but I can still think of some normal apps which might be useful on a PC.

Google’s blog post doesn’t go into how Google Play Games works yet. Is it Android emulation, something based on Microsoft’s Windows Subsystem for Linux, or streaming? Google is launching pages for the beta sign-up and a developer site, which will hopefully have more information.

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