The Download: Chinese hackers target telecoms, and aviation emissions

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Chinese hackers exploited years-old software flaws to break into telecom giants

The news: Hackers employed by the Chinese government have broken into numerous major telecommunications firms around the world in a cyber-espionage campaign that has lasted at least two years, according to a new advisory from American security agencies. 

How it happened: The hackers allegedly breached their targets by exploiting old and well-known critical vulnerabilities in popular networking hardware. Once they had a foothold inside their targets, the hackers used the compromised devices to gain full access to the network traffic of numerous private companies and government agencies, US officials said. They did not name those affected by the campaign, nor explain the impact it had. 

What it means: The campaign is a warning about the need for better basic cybersecurity for some of the most important networks in the world, and a dramatic illustration of the danger software flaws pose even years after they’re discovered and made public. Read the full story.

—Patrick Howell O’Neill

The aviation industry can hit emissions goals, but new fuels need to take flight first

Cutting carbon emissions from planes is going to be difficult—but not impossible, according to a new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The report outlines possible paths for aviation to reduce emissions enough to do its part in keeping global warming at less than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, the target set by the Paris agreement. It says that about 60% of emissions reductions are projected to come from low-carbon fuels, with the rest coming from efficiencies, and lower demand. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Twitter has agreed to give Elon Musk access to millions of tweets
Which could make it much harder for him to back out of buying the company. (NYT $)
+ One of Musk’s financiers is linked to a Russian tycoon. (Bloomberg $)
+ Texas’ decision to probe into Twitter’s fake accounts is a purely political one. (NYT $)

2 How Big Tech’s data hoarding harms us all
And why sharing it wouldn’t hurt them, either. (Time $)
+ Collective data rights can stop big tech from obliterating privacy. (MIT Technology Review)

3 A start-up has been accused of dispensing ADHD drugs too liberally
Particularly during the pandemic, when regulations around remote prescriptions were relaxed. (WSJ $)

4 Bumpy batteries work better in freezing temperatures
Flat lithium-ion batteries struggle in the cold—changing the shape of its components could be a solution. (New Scientist $)
+ This startup wants to pack more energy into electric vehicle batteries. (MIT Technology Review)

5 South Korea is investigating the company behind the stablecoin crash
Over claims a worker embezzled its crypto holdings. (FT $)
+ Workers thinking of pivoting to web3 are having second thoughts. (Vox)

6 Smart windows are an obvious way to save energy
The problem, as ever, is making them affordable enough to go mainstream. (Knowable Magazine)

7 The Caribbean’s hurricane activity is at a historic low
And has been for a surprisingly long time. (Hakai Magazine)
+ We might have to start naming heat waves the way we do hurricanes. (Axios)
+ How to keep the power on during hurricanes and heat waves. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Tracking vibrations could help experts to get ahead of flash floods. (Economist $)

8 Not all NFT art is terrible
It just happens that most of the really famous pieces are. (The Verge)
+ Bored Apes has been dethroned as the most popular NFT project. (Motherboard)

9 A saxophonist smuggled secrets into the USSR using encrypted musical code
Rendering the information indecipherable to everyone but practiced musicians. (Wired $)

10 It’s time to get over The Current Thing
Our collective ability to forget what we’re outraged by should help. (FT $)

Quote of the day

“There is literally not a computer in that clinic unless I bring my laptop from home in.”

—Mia Raven, director of policy at an abortion clinic in Alabama, tells NBC News she’s stepping up security measures as part of measures to better protect clients, as the risk of Roe being repealed looms. 

The big story

Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: A GPS mystery in Shanghai

November 2019

On a sultry summer night in July 2019, the MV Manukai was arriving at the port of Shanghai, near the mouth of the Huangpu River. The city would be the American container ship’s last stop in China before making its long homeward journey to Long Beach, California.

As the crew carefully maneuvered the 700-foot ship through the world’s busiest port, its captain watched his navigation screens closely. According to the Manukai’s screens, another ship was steaming up the same channel at about seven knots (eight miles per hour). Suddenly, the other ship disappeared from the AIS display. A few minutes later, the screen showed the other ship back at the dock. Then it was in the channel and moving again, then back at the dock, then gone once more.

Eventually, mystified, the captain picked up his binoculars and scanned the dockside. The other ship had been stationary at the dock the entire time. Now, new research and previously unseen data show that the Manukai, and thousands of other vessels, are falling victim to a mysterious new weapon that is able to spoof GPS systems in a way never seen before. Read the full story.

Mark Harris

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ This oompah band cover of Highway to Hell will get your Thursday off to the perfect start (Thanks Allegra!)
+ Who knew bamboo salt was so interesting?
+ Riley is an LGBTQ+ icon after our own hearts.
+ What it looks like to grow a mango tree from a seed over the course of a year (just don’t expect it to bear fruit any time soon.)
+ It’s asparagus season—here’s how to cook it to perfection.