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Sony Hack Companies on Alert

It may appear we've reached a climax in the Sony Pictures hack saga - what with The Interview finally seeing a theatrical release - but the international finger pointing is alive and well. Today, North Korea's National Defense Commission is accusing the US of causing nation-wide internet outages, while likening the government to a snot-nosed child playing games. According to Reuters, a statement from the Commission carried by the country's official news agency KCNA reads:

The United States, with its large physical size and oblivious to the shame of playing hide and seek as children with runny noses would, has begun disrupting the Internet operations of the main media outlets of our republic.

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Lizard Squad, the merry band of hackers that claimed responsibility for taking Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network offline for Christmas, appears to have a new target: Tor. Reports of an attack on the network, which offers online anonymity, appeared earlier today, following a warning on December 19th of "Possible upcoming attempts to disable the Tor network."

A Tor spokesperson acknowledged the attacks, but said they were unlikely to have an effect on users' anonymity.

"This looks like a regular attempt at a Sybil attack: the attackers have signed up many new relays in hopes of becoming a large fraction of the network. But even though they are running thousands of new relays, their relays currently make up less than 1% of the Tor network by capacity. We are working now to remove these relays from the network before they become a threat, and we don't expect any anonymity or performance effects based on what we've seen so far.

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Next week supporters of Alexei Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption crusader currently under house arrest in Russia, are planning a rally that the Kremlin would really rather not happen. So, to that end, the government has begun issuing block orders to the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google to keep information about the rally offline. But, the companies don't appear to be inclined to comply... at least, not any more. When the rally was first announced last week, a prosecutor from Russia's communication's regulator issued the block orders. Facebook honored the first request, but when more pages promoting the rally cropped up and criticism was leveled at the social network, it decided to get its lawyers involved and has left the new pages up. Twitter and YouTube have received similar requests, but the sites appear content to let videos and tweets promoting the rally live on.

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Getting to Mars is never going to be cheap. But a couple of mathematicians have figured out how to shave some significant bucks off the price tag. Rather than fly to the red planet when its orbit brings it closest, the craft will "meet" it on the way. The strategy is called ballistic capture and involves launching the ship into a Mars-like orbit, but moving slower than the planet itself. Eventually Mars will catch up and all that fuel that would have been necessary to cruise to the planet suddenly becomes dead weight. Which means there's no need to carry it, so you can have a smaller, lighter craft. All of this adds up to a significantly cheaper journey. But there is one problem -- the journey will take much, much longer. As is, it would take six months to get to there, using ballistic capture would add several more months. It wouldn't be great for sending humans to Mars, but it could make sending future rovers much more affordable for NASA and other agency.

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NSA headquarters

The NSA's idea of a Christmas present, it seems, is to release multiple reports detailing 12 years of improper conduct. The heavily redacted accounts reveal many incidents of misuse (both accidental and intentional) of the NSA's Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) systems. A large portion of the misconduct occurred due to the way agents searched the NSA's systems. Poorly constructed and sometimes unauthorized searches led to agents gleaning data on either US citizens and other unintended targets. According to an accompanying press release, data acquired illegally or accidentally is "almost always" deleted in what it refers to as a "purge process."

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US-IT-CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW-CES

Samsung and Sony may grab a larger share of the CES fanfare, but don't count LG out. It has quite the annual presence in Las Vegas, too. The Korean company uses the tech industry's January soiree as the backdrop for a wide selection of product reveals -- everything from wearables to smartphones to 4K TVs -- and it has a sizable booth to house it all. It's almost a given that LG will offer up improvements to more of the same at this CES. But before we try to gauge what the company may have in store for 2015, let's first take a look at how far LG's come.

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Unmask face mask

There are myriad reasons for wearing a face mask. In China and parts of South East Asia, they're commonly used as protection against alarmingly poor air quality, while in Japan and elsewhere they help reduce the chance of catching airborne diseases such as flu. Helpful as they may be, they're not the most conducive to maintaining everyday social interactions. Designers Simone Rebaudengo and Paul Adams' Unmask is an experimental prototype that aims to change that by allowing wearers to show emotions through their masks.

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CES 2015 is shaping up to be a big event for Mercedes-Benz, which will discuss its plans for self-driving cars in a keynote speech and show off a crazy prototype. LG has now revealed that it will supply the mono and stereo camera systems that will keep the cars in their lanes, dim the headlights, brake autonomously, and spot pedestrians or cyclists. The Korean company will also supply biometric systems to monitor the driver's eye movement and alertness, along with mobile and home entertainment expertise. Mercedes, in turn, will license part of its 6D Vision self-driving tech back to LG to use with other automakers.

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Scrabble! of sorts

The holidays are here and many of us are traveling to visit families located far and wide. While it's always good to see our relatives, it's not as enjoyable to talk politics with Grandpa all day. We really need some entertaining ways to keep everyone sane. Fortunately there's a variety of games available on our tablets, phones, computers, and digital media streamers that are perfect for groups. What are your favorite standbys? Head over to the Engadget forums and share the games and gadgets you play with your family in order to keep things relaxing and fun.

[Image credit: Amit Gupta / Flickr]

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Photos of the Earth from up high make for some very stunning imagery, so astronauts aboard the ISS make it a point to capture tons of photos for our sake. Take for example, the 12,500 images astronaut Alexander Gerst took during his six-month stint on the station, which the European Space Agency has turned into a time-lapse video embedded below the fold. In it, you'll see auroras undulate in the atmosphere, thunderstorms wreak havoc and cities light up like neurons. The video's quite fluid despite being made of photos, because Gerst used to set up his camera to automatically take pictures at regular intervals while he's performing experiments. Gerst came back home in November with two fellow astronauts, but we don't think we need to worry about the lack of space photos in the future.

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