‘The Last Video Store’ is a Blockbuster-inspired game coming to PSVR


People are weirdly fascinated with Blockbuster, even though (or perhaps because) there’s only one remaining store in the entire world. You’ll soon be able to re-experience that iconic yellow/blue design on PlayStation VR with an upcoming title called The Last Video Store.

It’s being developed by RareBird Games, the company behind the extremely weird horror title Sinfeld Remastered. The debut trailer ought to bring out those nostalgic feels, with the rows of DVDs VHS tapes in a Blockbuster-like store, chilled out employees an overly bright interior. It might even help you forget that in reality, the best titles were rarely available when you wanted them, that Blockbuster’s real business model was collecting late fees. 

According to the trailer, you’ll be able to explore the area around the store or take a night drive around the neighborhood. You’ll also be able to engage a “survival mode” that includes “realistic local jobs bills to pay while managing your video enthusiast hobbies on the side.” You can also select cult videos like Evil Dead Mac Me watch them in a theater type environment, though it’s hard to see how that would work in the final game, given licensing, etc. 

Given how Sinfeld evolved since the first trailer, it’s hard to say what form The Last Video Store may take when it’s released — could it also become a horror title, for instance? Adding to the intrigue, the Last Video Store briefly appeared in the announcement trailer for Sinfeld, as GamesRadar notes. There’s no other information, so we’ll have to wait see where the rabbit hole eventually leads. 

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Russia is launching a new module for the International Space Station


The Nauka module being prepared for launch


Russia is launching a new module for the International Space Station (ISS), after more than a decade of delays. The Nauka module is set to lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on top of a Proton-M rocket at around 1500 GMT today, along with a new robotic arm for the station created by the European Space Agency.

The ISS is composed of modules equipment from different space agencies including Europe, Japan Canada, but the bulk of the station is composed of two main sections, a Russian segment a US segment. At 13 metres long weighing more than 20 tonnes, Nauka, also called the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, will be among the largest in Russia’s half.

After launch, Nauka will take eight days to reach the ISS. Once attached, it will act as a new hub for the Russian segment of the station. “It’s a science laboratory, it also provides a lot of important service systems,” says Anatoly Zak, editor of the website RussianSpaceWeb.com. Planned research includes biological materials science experiments. “It’s a step in making the Russian segment more independent [from the US segment].” This includes a new toilet inside the module sleeping compartments for the crew.

The launch of Nauka has been a long time coming, with construction of the module beginning in the 1990s. Technical supply issues since then, such as the loss of components from Ukraine following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, have seen development stumble. “It’s much more complex than anything the Russian space programme has tried to build in the last few years,” says Zak. Russia’s last module – Rassvet – was carried to the ISS by a US space shuttle in 2010.

Nauka’s launch also comes at a time when Russia’s future on the ISS is in doubt. Earlier this year, the head of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, said Russia would leave the ISS by 2025 if sanctions against the country weren’t lifted by the US. “Either we work together, in which case the sanctions are lifted immediately, or we will not work together we will deploy our own station,” he said. A long-touted idea is that Russia would detach its segment of the ISS to begin its own separate space station in orbit.

Jared Zambrano-Stout, a former chief of staff for the National Space Council in the US, says he thinks such a scenario is unlikely. “The logistics associated with separating the modules is a lot more challenging than is being publicly discussed,” he says. “If they were planning to do that they should be building more modules now, because they’re going to need additional things up there to support a separate station.” Russia’s segment still relies on electrical power from the US segment, for example.

NASA has made it clear that it hopes to continue operating the ISS until 2030, by which time many of the station’s components are expected to be too old to continue. It is in the process of developing a replacement space station, the Lunar Gateway, that would be positioned near the moon support missions to the lunar surface, a venture Russia has yet to express an interest in joining.

“Low Earth orbit will be the only destination for their cosmonauts if they do not cooperate with NASA, for the foreseeable future at least,” says Zak.

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DRDO tests indigenously developed ‘fire & forget’ anti-tank missile


The missile was launched from a man-portable launcher integrated with thermal site the target was mimicking a tank


DRDO | Indian Army

Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) on Wednesday successfully flight tested indigenously developed low weight, fire & forget Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile (MPATGM).

DRDO said it will be a major boost to Modi government’s flagship “Atmanirbhar Bharat” scheme strengthening Indian Army.

The missile was launched from a man-portable launcher integrated with thermal site the target was mimicking a tank. The missile hit the target in direct attack mode destroyed it with precision. The test has validated the minimum range successfully, said DRDO.

“All the mission objectives were met. The missile (Man-Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile) has already been successfully flight-tested for the maximum range. The missile is incorporated with state-of-the-art Miniaturized Infrared Imaging Seeker along with advanced avionics,” said DRDO.

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First Published: Wed, July 21 2021. 17:03 IST


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Why Apple’s walled garden is no match for Pegasus spyware | Technology


You will, by now, have heard about Pegasus. It’s the brname for a family of spyware tools sold by the NSO Group, an Israeli outfit of hackers-for-hire who sell their wares to intelligence agencies, law enforcement, militaries around the world.

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An investigation by the Guardian 16 other media organisations around the world into a massive data leak suggests widespread abuse of NSO Group’s hacking software by government customers. The company insists it is intended for use only against criminals terrorists but the investigation has revealed that journalists, human rights activists opposition politicians are also being targeted. Since our phones are increasingly external brains, storing our lives in digital form, a successful deployment of Pegasus can be devastating. Messages, emails, contact details, GPS location, calendar entries more can be extracted from the device in a matter of minutes.

On Sunday, the Guardian its media partners began to publish the results of the investigation into the NSO Group, Pegasus, the people whose numbers appear on the leaked list:

The Guardian its media partners will be revealing the identities of people whose number appeared on the list in the coming days. They include hundreds of business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, union officials government officials, including cabinet ministers, presidents prime ministers.

The list also contains the numbers of close family members of one country’s ruler, suggesting the ruler may have instructed their intelligence agencies to explore the possibility of monitoring their own relatives.

The presence of a number in the data does not reveal whether there was an attempt to infect the phone with spyware such as Pegasus, the company’s signature surveillance tool, or whether any attempt succeeded. There are a very small number of landlines US numbers in the list, which NSO says are “technically impossible” to access with its tools – which reveals some targets were selected by NSO clients even though they could not be infected with Pegasus.

There’s a lot more to read on our site, including the fact that the numbers of almost 200 journalists were identified in the data; links to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi; the discovery that a political rival of Narendra Modi, the autocratic leader of India, was among those whose number was found in the leaked documents.

But this is a tech newsletter, I want to focus on the tech side of the story. Chiefly: how the hell did this happen?

The messages are coming from inside the house

Pegasus affects the two largest mobile operating systems, Android iOS, but I’m going to focus on iOS here for two reasons: one is a technical problem that I’ll get to in a bit, but the other is that, although Android is by far the most widely used mobile OS, iPhones have a disproportionately high market share among many of the demographics targeted by the customers of NSO Group.

That’s partly because they exist predominantly in the upper tiers of the market, with price tags that keep them out of the reach of much of the world’s smartphone users but still within the reach of the politicians, activists journalists potentially targeted by governments around the world.

But it’s also because they have a reputation for security. Dating back to the earliest days of the mobile platform, Apple fought to ensure that hacking iOS was hard, that downloading software was easy safe, that installing patches to protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities was the norm.

And yet Pegasus has worked, in one way or another, on iOS for at least five years. The latest version of the software is even capable of exploiting a brand-new iPhone 12 running iOS 14.6, the newest version of the operating system available to normal users. More than that: the version of Pegasus that infects those phones is a “zero-click” exploit. There is no dodgy link to click, or malicious attachment to open. Simply receiving the message is enough to become a victim of the malware.

It’s worth pausing to note what is, isn’t, worth criticising Apple for here. No software on a modern computing platform can ever be bug-free, as a result no software can ever be fully hacker-proof. Governments will pay big money for working iPhone exploits, that motivates a lot of unscrupulous security researchers to spend a lot of time trying to work out how to break Apple’s security.

But security experts I’ve spoken to say that there is a deeper malaise at work here. “Apple’s self-assured hubris is just unparalleled,” Patrick Wardle, a former NSA employee founder of the Mac security developer Objective-See, told me last week. “They basically believe that their way is the best way.”

What that means in practice is that the only thing that can protect iOS users from an attack is Apple – if Apple fails, there’s no other line of defence.

Security for the 99%

At the heart of the criticism, Wardle accepts, is a solid motivation. Apple’s security model is based on ensuring that, for the 99% – or more – for whom the biggest security threat they will ever face is downloading a malicious app while trying to find an illegal stream of a Hollywood movie, their data is safe. Apps can only be downloaded from the company’s own App Store, where they are supposed to be vetted before publication. When they are installed, they can only access their own data, or data a user explicitly decides to share with them. And no matter what permissions they are given, a whole host of the device’s capabilities are permanently blocked off from them.

But if an app works out how to escape that “sandbox”, then the security model is suddenly inverted. “I have no idea if my iPhone is hacked,” Wardle says. “My Mac computer on the other hand: yes, it’s an easier target. But I can look at a list of running processes; I have a firewall that I can ask to show me what programs are trying to talk to the internet. Once an iOS device is successfully penetrated, unless the attacker is very unlucky, that implant is going to remain undetected.”

A similar problem exists at the macro scale. An increasingly common way to ensure critical systems are protected is to use the fact that an endless number of highly talented professionals are constantly trying to break them – to pay them money for the vulnerabilities they find. This model, known as a “bug bounty”, has become widespread in the industry, but Apple has been a laggard. The company does offer bug bounties, but for one of the world’s richest organisations, its rates are pitiful: an exploit of the sort that the NSO Group deployed would comma reward of about $250,000, which would barely cover the cost of the salaries of a team that was able to find it – let alone have a chance of out-bidding the competition, which wants the same vulnerability for darker purposes.

And those security researchers who do decide to try to help fix iPhones are hampered by the very same security model that lets successful attackers hide their tracks. It’s hard to successfully research the weaknesses of a device that you can’t take apart physically or digitally.

In a statement, Apple said:

Apple unequivocally condemns cyberattacks against journalists, human rights activists, others seeking to make the world a better place. For over a decade, Apple has led the industry in security innovation and, as a result, security researchers agree iPhone is the safest, most secure consumer mobile device on the market. Attacks like the ones described are highly sophisticated, cost millions of dollars to develop, often have a short shelf life, are used to target specific individuals. While that means they are not a threat to the overwhelming majority of our users, we continue to work tirelessly to defend all our customers, we are constantly adding new protections for their devices data.

There are ways round some of these problems. Digital forensics does still work on iPhones – despite, rather than because, of Apple’s stance. In fact, that’s the other reason why I’ve focused on iPhones rather than Android devices here. Because while the NSO Group was good at covering its tracks, it wasn’t perfect. On Android devices, the relative openness of the platform seems to have allowed the company to successfully erase all its traces, meaning that we have very little idea which of the Android users who were targeted by Pegasus were successfully affected.

But iPhones are, as ever, trickier. There is a file, DataUsage.sqlite, that records what software has run on an iPhone. It’s not accessible to the user of the device, but if you back up the iPhone to a computer search through the backup, you can find the file. The records of Pegasus had been removed from that file, of course – but only once. What the NSO Group didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t spot, is that every time some software is run, it is listed twice in that file. And so by comparing the two lists looking for inconsistencies, Amnesty’s researchers were able to spot when the infection landed.

So there you go: the same opacity that makes Apple devices generally safe makes it harder to protect them when that safety is broken. But it also makes it hard for the attackers to clean up after themselves. Perhaps two wrongs do make a right?

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Pro Evolution Soccer will become ‘eFootball’ in free-to-play shift


Konami’s cult Pro Evolution Soccer series is trying a new tactic in its endless duel against FIFA. To stout from its bigger rival, the soccer franchise is adopting a new name, eFootball, going free-to-play on consoles, PC mobile. 

Clearly, this isn’t a one-off. Konami has rebuilt the game using Unreal engine as part of the shift to providing a digital service. The biggest change to gameplay is the new “motion matching” technology designed to make player animations more realistic. Gamers will choose from different movements in real-time during matches. Seeing as the original Pro Evo’s gameplay is what helped to distinguish it from FIFA, motion matching could prove a make or break feature.

As you’d expect from an F2P title, eFootball will regularly receive new updates after its launch this fall. Konami will have to tread with care, however. Free-to-play games have attracted the ire of players regulators alike due to their exploitative nature, best summed up by loot boxes that cost real money to obtain. The last thing the storied developer wants is to sully Pro Evo’s name. Maybe, that’s why it’s changing it. 

But, the news will probably raise alarm bells for fans. Konami said that only “local matches” featuring FC Barcelona, Juventus, FC Bayern, Manchester United “others” will be available for free at launch. While, certain game modes will later be sold as optional DLC, “giving players the freedom to build an experience” that matches their interests. It’s a major risk that Konami is banking on to restore the franchise as a regular feature in dorms living rooms around the world. 

The game will lin early fall with cross-generation matchmaking between current last-gen PlayStation Xbox consoles. Later in the fall, you can expect a managerial-style team building mode, online leagues, a match pass system that rewards you with items players. At the same time, cross-platform play will be introduced between consoles PC. The winter will see the release of mobile controller support, full cross-play including mobile the launch of professional amateur eSports tournaments.

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