TIME cell phones

Researchers Find Flaws That Means Anyone Can Listen to Your Cell Phone Calls

Flaws found in global cell network means spies can hack your phone

Security flaws discovered by German researchers could allow hackers to listen in on private phone calls and intercept text messages en masse, the Washington Post reports.

The weaknesses in the global cellular network are to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, by Tobias Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs.

The Post reports that these experts believe that SS7, the global network that allows cellular carriers worldwide to route calls and messages to each other, have “serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.” Researchers in Germany have discovered that hackers with an in-depth knowledge of SS7’s different features would be able to exploit certain functions to listen to private calls and intercept text messages.

One way that hackers could intercept calls would be to exploit cellular carriers forwarding function — which allows a user to have his calls directed to another number — by redirecting “calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.”

Despite mobile carriers working to secure data, the Post reports that the weaknesses in SS7 have left millions vulnerable:

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

It’s unclear how much, if any, data has been intercepted due to these vulnerabilities, but as Engel told the Post, “I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Parenting

You Really Can Blame Your Parents for Everything

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How your parents treated you as a child has long-lasting effects on what kind of adult you turn into, finds a new study in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 243 kids in Minnesota from low-income families and followed them for many years, until they turned 32. Researchers studied how their mothers interacted with the kids during their first three years of life, and as they got older, they asked their teachers about the child’s social skills and academic competence. Once the kids were in their 20s and 30s, researchers asked them about their education and relationships.

Children with mothers who practiced a more sensitive kind of parenting during their first three years of life—those who responded to their child promptly, had positive interactions with their kid and made their child feel secure—went on to have more successful relationships and higher academic achievement compared to those whose mothers didn’t engage with them in this way. The influence on academics appears to be stronger, but the overall effects of parenting could even be seen past age 30.

Prior research has shown that sensitive caregiving can influence social development when a child is young, but the new study shows that even despite economic factors, this type of parenting impacts children well into their adult lives—in a wide range of unexpected ways.

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TIME Research

Here’s How Hugs Can Prevent the Flu

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Hug-deprived people may get more severe colds

Want to stay well this flu season? New research suggests you can inoculate yourself with a hug—sort of.

For a study published Thursday in the journal Psychological Science, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University had an inkling that hugs—as an indicator of social support but also because it involves touch—might pack a flu-fighting punch. Studies have shown that strong social ties can protect against stress, anxiety and depression, and the researchers wanted to see if they can be a buffer for a purely physiological diseases, too. The researchers discovered that it did.

For two weeks, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University called up 400 people daily and assessed their levels of social support. They asked them if they’d been hugged that day, and if they were experiencing any conflicts or tension with people. The researchers then gave them nasal drops brimming with either the cold or flu virus, quarantined them for about a week in a hotel, and monitored their symptoms. (Everyone who participated in the study was compensated for their time, says study co-author Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.)

Even though everyone was exposed to infection-causing drops, 78% who developed an infection and 31% actually got sick—meaning they had physical symptoms of illness. For the unfortunate third whose hugs weren’t enough to prevent physical symptoms of being sick, they at least got some big benefit: those who got regularly hugged and those who felt they had more social support had less severe symptoms than the hug-deprived.

“There’s a lot of evidence out there suggesting that touch might be really effective at protecting people from stressors,” says Cohen, and this study adds to that very hug-friendly body of work. “It’s a communication to people that you care about them, and that you have a close intimate relationship with them.”

And as for the ideal “dose” of hugs? Cohen says: “It looks like one hug a day might be enough.”

TIME global health

This Is Now the Average Life Expectancy Worldwide

Southern sub-Saharan Africa was the only region worldwide to have a decline in life expectancy

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study.

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said lead study author Christopher Murray, a University of Washington professor, in a press release.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal, showed declines in the number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease in high-income countries as well as in deaths from diarrhea and neonatal complications elsewhere. Both of these trends contributed to the overall decline. Importantly, medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement, according to Murray.

Still, despite the improvement, the number of deaths from a number of ailments increased. Perhaps most dramatically, deaths from HIV/AIDS joined the list of the top 10 causes of premature death. The number of annual deaths from the ailment rose from 2.07 million in 1990 to 2.63 million in 2013, the equivalent of a 344% increase in years of lost life. The increase in deaths from HIV/AIDS made southern sub-Saharan Africa the only region worldwide to experience a decline in life expectancy.

Other ailments that caused an increased loss of life include liver cancer caused by hepatitis C, which soared 125% since 1990, and deaths from disorders related to drug use, which increased by 63%.

TIME Parenting

Expectant Dads Experience Prenatal Hormone Changes Too

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Including a decrease in testosterone

Women aren’t the only ones who experience hormonal changes before having a baby. As it turns out, men also have some hormonal waves prior to becoming dads.

New research published in the American Journal of Human Biology looked at 29 couples expecting their first child. The researchers took salvia samples of the participants and measured their levels of the hormones testosterone, cortisol, estradiol, and progesterone. The couples’ hormones were measured at weeks 12, 20, 28, and 36 of pregnancy.

It’s long been proven that expectant women undergo hormonal changes, but less is known about the soon-to-be-papas. The new study shows that while women had increases in all four types of hormones, men had decreases in their testosterone and estradiol levels, but no significant changes in cortisol or progesterone.

It’s the first research to evidence that prenatal testosterone changes can occur in expectant fathers, though the changes are still small compared to those observed in women.

The researchers did not compare the couples to other non-expectant couples, so exactly how great these changes are compared to couples who aren’t expecting kids is undetermined. And scientists were unable to conclude why men experience these changes, though there are some speculations based on prior research.

For instance, prior studies have suggested that men’s hormones change after becoming fathers as they adopt more nurturing behaviors. Or that drops in testosterone may reflect sleep disruptions or disruptions in sexual activity due to having kids. Some of these same behaviors may happen during pregnancy too. The psychological, emotional and behavioral changes of new parenthood could also cause hormonal waves in expectant dads.

“It will be important for future research to determine whether the changes that we observed in men’s hormones reflect processes associated with fatherhood specifically, or long-term pair-bonding more generally,” the authors concluded. 

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TIME Research

You Asked: What’s the Best Way to Whiten My Teeth?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Pearly whites are just a dentist’s visit away, but they’ll cost you

Like a shiny new watch or a sparkling personality, white teeth are an ornamentation. Both men and women are attracted to a bright white smile, concludes a study in the journal PLOS One. Additional research has shown job applicants with white teeth are more likely to be hired than yellow-toothed applicants.

From whitening toothpastes and over-the-counter strips to dental office procedures, all tooth-whitening measures employ hydrogen peroxide to clean away stains. “The only differences are the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide employed and how they’re held against your teeth,” explains Dr. Matt Messina, an American Dental Association spokesperson who practices dentistry in Cleveland.

Of course, cost is also a factor. Starting with the least-potent (but least-expensive) whitener, Messina says toothpastes contain 1% to 1.5% concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. “That’s adequate to clean surface stains,” he says, “but it won’t penetrate your tooth enamel.” The enamel tends to hold the deepest, hardest-to-remove blemishes—that patina of black coffee or red wine that gradually accumulates on your smile like vehicle pollution on the sides of old brick buildings.

So if your teeth are seriously stained, a whitening toothpaste alone won’t get the job done—no matter how hard you brush. (In fact, brushing forcefully can damage your gums and is never advisable, Messina warns.)

Over-the-counter gels or strips are the next level up on the hydrogen-peroxide/price spectrum. “They’re usually in the 6% to 10% range, ” Messina says. At these concentrations, the hydrogen peroxide can penetrate microscopic holes and fissures in your enamel to bubble away stains.

While over-the-counter options can be very effective, Messina says the key is to apply them evenly and keep them on as long as directed. “I usually recommend the strips over the gels because they stay in place,” he explains. If the strips or gel are applied incorrectly, your teeth could look unevenly white. Gum irritation is also possible, he says.

But remember this important caveat: whitening agents do not work on caps, crowns or fillings. If you’ve had some dental work done, you should speak with your dentist before you whiten your teeth to be sure the results will look uniform, Messina says.

Another step up in both cost and potency is dentist supplied “tray-and-gel systems,” which contain hydrogen peroxide in the 10% to 15% range and can cost several hundred dollars. After custom fitting your mouth with a mold, your dentist supplies a take home tray and whitening gel for you to use at home. “The custom tray ensures the gel is evenly applied, and it can produce some pretty impressive results,” Messina says.

The final and most expensive option is settling into your dentist’s chair for a series of 10- to 15-minute whitening treatments. With hydrogen peroxide concentrations as high as 35%, these treatments can make your smile a dozen shades brighter, Messina says. They can also run you more than $1,000. “Whitening is a strictly cosmetic procedure, so it’s almost never covered by insurance,” Messina says.

So how white should you go? That’s really a personal preference thing, Messina says. While some people want their teeth as white as possible, the same PLOS One study mentioned above found that people with “natural” looking teeth scored just as highly in terms of attractiveness when compared to people with ultra-bright white smiles.

It’s also possible to over-whiten your teeth, Messina says. “If you whiten excessively, the tooth enamel can actually become translucent, which can make the teeth look blue or gray.” That’s not harmful in the long-term, but blue teeth isn’t a hot look.

While über-white teeth may not be any healthier than stained chompers, Messina says he thinks there are dental health benefits associated with a whiter smile. “I’ve found people who’ve had their teeth whitened are better at brushing and flossing,” he says. “When you’re proud of something, you take better care it.”

Read next: You Asked: Is Sleeping In a Cold Room Better For You?

TIME Cancer

How Calling Cancer a ‘Fight’ or ‘Battle’ Can Harm Patients

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War metaphors can lead to feelings of guilt and failure

Using hostile, warlike metaphors to describe cancer may make patients less likely to take steps toward certain treatments, new research suggests.

The study, which will be published in the January issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that patients are less likely to engage in important limiting behaviors, like reducing smoking and cutting back on red meat, when researchers associated cancer with words like “hostile” and “fight.” In fact, the study shows that war metaphors do not make patients any more likely to seek more aggressive treatment.

“When you frame cancer as an enemy, that forces people to think about active engagement and attack behaviors as a way to effectively deal with cancer,” says David Hauser, who led the study. “That dampens how much people think about much they should limit and restrain themselves.”

In earlier research, investigators found that war metaphors can lead to feelings of guilt and failure in patients who die of cancer, even though they have little control managing it.

“Blame is being put on the patient, and there’s almost a sense that, if you are dying, you must have given up and not have fought hard enough,” said the study’s author, Lancaster University professor Elena Semino, in a statement.

Semino based her finding on an analysis of 1.5 million words from interviews and online cancer discussions that she conducted with colleagues. She is now working on a manual of cancer metaphors for health care providers.

Still, it may be difficult to change such a deeply-rooted element of our lexicon. Words like “fight” and “battle” make the top-ten list of words commonly associated with cancer, according to Hauser. Straightforward words like “die” and “suffer” comprise the remainder of the list. According to Semino’s study, words like “journey” might be a better replacement for “battle.”

Hauser says that medical professionals and media outlets should try to help expand the way that people think about the disease. He cites the “watchful waiting,” a passive method of treating prostate cancer, as one such example.

“What would be more beneficial would be changing the sorts of stories about cancer out there to expose aspects of the disease that don’t fit with this enemy conceptualization,” he says.

TIME Research

Most U.S. Doctors Now Support Assisted Suicide: Survey

The survey was conducted during the high profile campaign by terminally ill Brittany Maynard, 29, who decided to end her own life

For the first time, most U.S. doctors — 54% — favor assisted suicide, backing the rights of patients with an “incurable illness” to seek “a dignified death,” according to a survey of more than 21,000 doctors released Tuesday night by Medscape. In 2010, a Medscape survey asked the same question, finding that 46% of doctors agreed with the notion of assisted suicide. Medscape, owned by WebMD, is an online resource for physicians.

The new survey was conducted from September through November — a time that paralleled the highly public campaign waged by Brittany Maynard, 29, who decided to end her own life with a lethal prescription…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Addiction

Here’s Who’s Most Likely To Black Out While Drinking

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Blacking out, or getting so drunk that you can’t remember anything that happened the night before, is all too common among underage drinkers, according to a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

In the study, Marc Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and his colleagues looked at data on 1,402 drinking teenagers in England when they were 15, 16, 18 and 19. They discovered that by the time the teens reached 19, 90% of them had drank so much they experienced a blackout. About half of them had blacked out multiple times.

More than half of people reported having a blackout at every year of follow-up.

Teens who blacked out while drinking tended to be female—likely because they weigh less and have less body water to dilute the alcohol—to smoke, have sensation-seeking and impulsive behaviors, lack conscientiousness and have friends who also drank or used other substances. “It’s not as if a blackout in these kids was an isolated phenomenon,” says Schuckit. “Blackouts are unfortunately often considered to be a funny thing as opposed to dangerous. I am not sure the average person realizes the dangers associated with blackouts.”

A blackout can occur when someone drinks well over their limit. Alcohol is considered a depressant, and when the dose is high enough, depressants are known to impair memory acquisition. When someone blacks out, it means that while they appear to be awake, alert and intoxicated, their brain is actually not making long-term memories of what’s happening. If a person experiencing a blackout is asked what happened to them just 10 minutes ago, they will have no idea.

There are very few, if any, longitudinal studies that have looked at the impact of blacking out on the brain, but experts guess that it isn’t good. High blood alcohol levels are known to cause memory problems later in life, and blacking out is an indicator of drinking too much. Some people may hit that point with fewer drinks than others, and it’s possible that some have a genetically predisposed sensitivity to alcohol’s effects—but blacking out always means you’ve drank too much.

For young people, that behavior concerns experts. “When you really get drunk, literature shows you are opening yourself up to a huge number of problems,” says Schuckit, citing a greater likelihood of getting into accidents and fights, or doing things that one may later regret, including sex.

The study looked at British students, and prior data suggests that they drink more than American students. Still, Schuckit says it should be taken more seriously among young drinkers everywhere.

Read next: This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

TIME Research

30 Images Of Life Under A Microscope

Some of the world’s most stunning beauties can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Every year, scientists and microscope devotees submit their images and movies of life science objects shot under a microscope to the Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition. Artists from 70 countries send in about 2,500 images to the competition every year to be judged by a panel of experts in the field. Here are this year’s honorees.

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