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WordPress plugins running on as many as 36,000 websites have been backdoored in a supply-chain attack with unknown origins, security researchers said on Monday.

So far, five plugins are known to be affected in the campaign, which was active as recently as Monday morning, researchers from security firm Wordfence reported. Over the past week, unknown threat actors have added malicious functions to updates available for the plugins on WordPress.org, the official site for the open source WordPress CMS software. When installed, the updates automatically create an attacker-controlled administrative account that provides full control over the compromised site. The updates also add content designed to goose search results.

Poisoning the well

“The injected malicious code is not very sophisticated or heavily obfuscated and contains comments throughout making it easy to follow,” the researchers wrote. “The earliest injection appears to date back to June 21st, 2024, and the threat actor was still actively making updates to plugins as recently as 5 hours ago.”

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Enlarge / Michael Jackson in concert, 1986. Sony Music owns a large portion of publishing rights to Jackson’s music. (credit: Getty Images)

Universal Music Group, Sony Music, and Warner Records have sued AI music-synthesis companies Udio and Suno for allegedly committing mass copyright infringement by using recordings owned by the labels to train music-generating AI models, reports Reuters. Udio and Suno can generate novel song recordings based on text-based descriptions of music (i.e., “a dubstep song about Linus Torvalds”).

The lawsuits, filed in federal courts in New York and Massachusetts, claim that the AI companies’ use of copyrighted material to train their systems could lead to AI-generated music that directly competes with and potentially devalues the work of human artists.

Like other generative AI models, both Udio and Suno (which we covered separately in April) rely on a broad selection of existing human-created artworks that teach a neural network the relationship between words in a written prompt and styles of music. The record labels correctly note that these companies have been deliberately vague about the sources of their training data.

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Enlarge (credit: Anthropic / Benj Edwards)

On Thursday, Anthropic announced Claude 3.5 Sonnet, its latest AI language model and the first in a new series of “3.5” models that build upon Claude 3, launched in March. Claude 3.5 can compose text, analyze data, and write code. It features a 200,000 token context window and is available now on the Claude website and through an API. Anthropic also introduced Artifacts, a new feature in the Claude interface that shows related work documents in a dedicated window.

So far, people outside of Anthropic seem impressed. “This model is really, really good,” wrote independent AI researcher Simon Willison on X. “I think this is the new best overall model (and both faster and half the price of Opus, similar to the GPT-4 Turbo to GPT-4o jump).”

As we’ve written before, benchmarks for large language models (LLMs) are troublesome because they can be cherry-picked and often do not capture the feel and nuance of using a machine to generate outputs on almost any conceivable topic. But according to Anthropic, Claude 3.5 Sonnet matches or outperforms competitor models like GPT-4o and Gemini 1.5 Pro on certain benchmarks like MMLU (undergraduate level knowledge), GSM8K (grade school math), and HumanEval (coding).

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Enlarge / Ford Mustang Mach E electric vehicles are offered for sale at a dealership on June 05, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

CDK Global touts itself as an all-in-one software-as-a-service solution that is “trusted by nearly 15,000 dealer locations.” One connection, over an always-on VPN to CDK’s data centers, gives a dealership customer relationship management (CRM) software, financing, inventory, and more back-office tools.

That all-in-one nature explains why people trying to buy cars, and especially those trying to sell them, have had a rough couple of days. CDK’s services have been down, due to what the firm describes as a “cyber incident.” CDK shut down most of its systems Wednesday, June 19, then told dealerships that evening that it restored some services. CDK told dealers today, June 20, that it had “experienced an additional cyber incident late in the evening on June 19,” and shut down systems again.

“At this time, we do not have an estimated time frame for resolution and therefore our dealers’ systems will not be available at a minimum on Thursday, June 20th,” CDK’s told customers.

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Enlarge / Ilya Sutskever physically gestures as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman looks on at Tel Aviv University on June 5, 2023. (credit: Getty Images)

On Wednesday, former OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever announced he is forming a new company called Safe Superintelligence, Inc. (SSI) with the goal of safely building “superintelligence,” which is a hypothetical form of artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence, possibly in the extreme.

We will pursue safe superintelligence in a straight shot, with one focus, one goal, and one product,” wrote Sutskever on X. “We will do it through revolutionary breakthroughs produced by a small cracked team.

Sutskever was a founding member of OpenAI and formerly served as the company’s chief scientist. Two others are joining Sutskever at SSI initially: Daniel Levy, who formerly headed the Optimization Team at OpenAI, and Daniel Gross, an AI investor who worked on machine learning projects at Apple between 2013 and 2017. The trio posted a statement on the company’s new website.

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Enlarge / Screen capture of a Runway Gen-3 Alpha video generated with the prompt “A giant humanoid, made of fluffy blue cotton candy, stomping on the ground, and roaring to the sky, clear blue sky behind them.” (credit: Runway)

On Sunday, Runway announced a new AI video synthesis model called Gen-3 Alpha that’s still under development, but it appears to create video of similar quality to OpenAI’s Sora, which debuted earlier this year (and has also not yet been released). It can generate novel, high-definition video from text prompts that range from realistic humans to surrealistic monsters stomping the countryside.

Unlike Runway’s previous best model from June 2023, which could only create two-second-long clips, Gen-3 Alpha can reportedly create 10-second-long video segments of people, places, and things that have a consistency and coherency that easily surpasses Gen-2. If 10 seconds sounds short compared to Sora’s full minute of video, consider that the company is working with a shoestring budget of compute compared to more lavishly funded OpenAI—and actually has a history of shipping video generation capability to commercial users.

Gen-3 Alpha does not generate audio to accompany the video clips, and it’s highly likely that temporally coherent generations (those that keep a character consistent over time) are dependent on similar high-quality training material. But Runway’s improvement in visual fidelity over the past year is difficult to ignore.

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Two men have pleaded guilty to charges of computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft tied to their theft of records from a law enforcement database for use in doxxing and extorting multiple individuals.

Sagar Steven Singh, 20, and Nicholas Ceraolo, 26, admitted to being members of ViLE, a group that specializes in obtaining personal information of individuals and using it to extort or harass them. Members use various methods to collect social security numbers, cell phone numbers, and other personal data and post it, or threaten to post it, to a website administered by the group. Victims had to pay to have their information removed or kept off the website. Singh pled guilty on Monday, June 17, and Ceraolo pled guilty on May 30.

Impersonating a police officer

The men gained access to the law enforcement portal by stealing the password of an officer’s account and using it to log in. The portal, maintained by an unnamed US federal law enforcement agency, was restricted to members of various law enforcement agencies to share intelligence from government databases with state and local officials. The site provided access to detailed nonpublic records involving narcotics and currency seizures and to law enforcement intelligence reports.

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Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank recently announced that it has been developing “emotion-canceling” technology powered by AI that will alter the voices of angry customers to sound calmer during phone calls with customer service representatives. The project aims to reduce the psychological burden on operators suffering from harassment and has been in development for three years. Softbank plans to launch it by March 2026, but the idea is receiving mixed reactions online.

According to a report from the Japanese news site The Asahi Shimbun, SoftBank’s project relies on an AI model to alter the tone and pitch of a customer’s voice in real-time during a phone call. SoftBank’s developers, led by employee Toshiyuki Nakatani, trained the system using a dataset of over 10,000 voice samples, which were performed by 10 Japanese actors expressing more than 100 phrases with various emotions, including yelling and accusatory tones.

Voice cloning and synthesis technology has made massive strides in the past three years. We’ve previously covered technology from Microsoft that can clone a voice with a three-second audio sample and audio-processing technology from Adobe that cleans up audio by re-synthesizing a person’s voice, so SoftBank’s technology is well within the realm of plausibility.

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Hardware manufacturer Asus has released updates patching multiple critical vulnerabilities that allow hackers to remotely take control of a range of router models with no authentication or interaction required of end users.

The most critical vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2024-3080 is an authentication bypass flaw that can allow remote attackers to log into a device without authentication. The vulnerability, according to the Taiwan Computer Emergency Response Team / Coordination Center (TWCERT/CC), carries a severity rating of 9.8 out of 10. Asus said the vulnerability affects the following routers:

Model name
Support Site link

XT8 and XT8_V2
https://www.asus.com/uk/supportonly/asus%20zenwifi%20ax%20(xt8)/helpdesk_bios/

RT-AX88U
https://www.asus.com/supportonly/RT-AX88U/helpdesk_bios/

RT-AX58U
https://www.asus.com/supportonly/RT-AX58U/helpdesk_bios/

RT-AX57
https://www.asus.com/networking-iot-servers/wifi-routers/asus-wifi-routers/rt-ax57/helpdesk_bios

RT-AC86U
https://www.asus.com/supportonly/RT-AC86U/helpdesk_bios/

RT-AC68U
https://www.asus.com/supportonly/RT-AC68U/helpdesk_bios/

A favorite haven for hackers

A second vulnerability tracked as CVE-2024-3079 affects the same router models. It stems from a buffer overflow flaw and allows remote hackers who have already obtained administrative access to an affected router to execute commands.

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Proton, the secure-minded email and productivity suite, is becoming a nonprofit foundation, but it doesn’t want you to think about it in the way you think about other notable privacy and web foundations.

“We believe that if we want to bring about large-scale change, Proton can’t be billionaire-subsidized (like Signal), Google-subsidized (like Mozilla), government-subsidized (like Tor), donation-subsidized (like Wikipedia), or even speculation-subsidized (like the plethora of crypto “foundations”),” Proton CEO Andy Yen wrote in a blog post announcing the transition. “Instead, Proton must have a profitable and healthy business at its core.”

The announcement comes exactly 10 years to the day after a crowdfunding campaign saw 10,000 people give more than $500,000 to launch Proton Mail. To make it happen, Yen, along with co-founder Jason Stockman and first employee Dingchao Lu, endowed the Proton Foundation with some of their shares. The Proton Foundation is now the primary shareholder of the business Proton, which Yen states will “make irrevocable our wish that Proton remains in perpetuity an organization that places people ahead of profits.” Among other members of the Foundation’s board is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of HTML, HTTP, and almost everything else about the web.

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