Category Archives: IT

Cyber-criminals gearing up for the World Cup

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Interested in the World Cup? Actually in Brazil?

Well, in both cases, you need to be extra careful when it comes to cyber security, as cyber-criminals seem to be bringing their a-game to bear on the tournament.

According to SecurityWeek, cyber-criminals have been tailoring trojans, designing back doors and using major spam runs – all using the World Cup as their theme – in their attempts to gain access to sensitive information and/or access to computers.

The morale is that you’d best be careful in order not to end up as Spain did last night…

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DOS computer system bug halts Belgian election results

voting-bug

A computer system that’s roughly as old as the first Secret of Monkey Island computer games is currently drawing out the excitement of the recent Belgian European, federal and regional elections.

The country used an e-voting system for the election – an e-voting system using DOS era hardware and software. I kid you not.

“The voting machines in question are x86 PCs from the DOS era, with two serial ports, a parallel port, a paltry 1 megabyte of RAM and a 3.5-inch disk drive used to load the voting software from a bootable DOS disk,” IT World reports.

Even though the system is roughly as old as Asterix’ village, the real issue seems to be a bug in the voting software. The bug caused “incoherent” election results when trying to add up preferential votes.

“The fault appeared in the system despite the fact that the application was especially developed for these elections, was “tested thousands of times” and was certified by PriceWaterhouseCoopers,” ministry spokesman Peter Grouwels said.

You’d expect the certification to be written in stone….

Belgium – the country of chocolate, comics…and computers from the crustacean period.

Smile! FBI facial recognition database set to pass 50 million recorded pictures

smail

The FBI’s Next-Generation Identification (NGI) scheme, is snapping up pictures left, right and centre. According to data dug up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the scheme, which is the bureau’s giant biometric database, will include more than 50 million images of peoples’ faces by 2015.

The database will include photos like mugshots, but according to the documentation found by the EFF also contain photos of non-criminals.

“Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data,” Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writes in a piece for Ars Technica.

Basically, you need to stay unemployed if you want to stay out of the database…thanks, FBI.

Automatic killer robots – soon coming to a (war) theatre near you

5robots

Killer robots that automatically target and engage enemies sound like science fiction. I mean, it’ basically a description of the terminator, isn’t it?

Well, according to a recent article in the superbly named Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, that might be about to change.

“Drones and robots are enabled by embedded autonomous subsystems that keep engines in tune and antennas pointed at satellites, and some can navigate, walk, and maneuver in complex environments autonomously. But with few exceptions, the targeting and firing decisions of armed robotic systems remain tightly under the control of human operators. This may soon change,” author Mark Gubrud writes.

He points out that we already today have drones and missiles who are capable of hunt for, and decided is something – or someone – is a appropriate target. Another example is automated sentry systems that can detect and warn intruders to stand still on their own. If the intruder doesn’t comply, the systems can automatically engage him or her.

The next step is transferring these abilities to units capable of navigating autonomously in a theatre of war, which is, if you look at events at companies like Boston Dynamics, probably not as far off as you’d think.

Google + Nest = Casper the ‘Friendly’ Terminator?

Google's next product?
Google’s next product?

Google’s purchase of thermostat producer Nest Labs for several billion dollars has raised eyebrows (there are so many puns on temperature of stock and so on that it’s almost…almost not funny) in tech circles and beyond.

The general agreement seems to be that the deal shows that Google is no longer ‘just’ a search engine company, but is aiming to be so much more – that the deal shows how the company has gone from wanting to run everything on your computer / tablet / phone to now steering toward a future where Google runs your home.

Others question paying $3.2 for a company that basically builds pretty thermostats. OK, you get a couple of former Apple poster boys thrown into the deal (one of them is seen as the daddy of the iPod), but it’s still a lot of money.

Others speculate that this new purchase is particular bad news for Apple – although also just generally bad for everyone in the tech industry that’s not Google.

While most people seem to think that this is due to the fact that Google is now taking a big swing at businesses that were previously out of harms way when the internet giant decided it was time to flex its almost limitless economic muscles, then I have a slightly different take.

In recent years, Google have, amongst other things, done the following:

Bought Nest – makes thermostats that thermostat can learn user behaviour and whether a building is occupied through temperature, humidity, activity and light sensors.
Bought Boston Dynamics – builds robots for the US military.
Bought a startup that works on software for recognising human gestures.
Sponsored automated vehicle competitions and shows videos of their self-driving cars.

So in other words Google have acquired soft- and hardware that, if you add it together, seem to be the building blocks for a Terminator – and they’ve already sort of built Skynet. Now take all those facts and think about the name of the software that Google have helped develop that powers most of the world’s smartphones…

If I was competing with Google, I’d be very nervous around Brin and Page in future and be sure to watch their hands for any sort of kill-signal….:-)

Why small satellite systems should scare your company

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According to a new study, hackers might be aiming their sights at the small communication satellite dishes found on oil rigs, ships, banks, and power grid substations.

The systems, that are referred to as VSATs (very-small-aperture terminals), are used in a wide variety of industries, including the media and banks to send data across the planet. But according to a report from cyber-security firm IntelCrawler, at least 10.500 of them are wide open for hacking.

We found thousands and thousands of these systems with what are essentially their digital front doors left wide open,” Dan Clements, IntelCrawler’s President, said according to CSMonitor.com.

“We haven’t looked for direct evidence in the underground that someone has compiled these vulnerabilities on VSATS,” he said. “But common sense says that if we’ve scanned it then others have, too – nation states, cyber-gangs. It’s information that’s out there.”

How heavy metal piracy is gold-plating Iron Maiden

It’s probably the last thing you’d expect, but it seems like music piracy might be presenting a completely new business model to some bands. Requirements for making it work do, however, seem to include either very long or very short hair, a tendency to wear leather, a fondness of whiskey and beer and a tendency to point at stuff with your index and pinkie at the same time.

Right, stereo(which is actually a bit of a pun when you thing about it)types aside, what we’re talking here is how piracy might be offering heavy metal bands a new way of making their money.

As an example, the members of Iron Maiden are looking like they’re doing very well for themselves in spite of being one of the most heavily pirated bands around – and data seems to indicate that the band is making a lot of money in the exact locations where it’s also being heavily pirated. Basically what seems to be happening is that the heavy metal fans are downloading Iron Maiden’s music illegally, liking it and then going out and buying it.

“One reason for this may be metal itself. It has a fiercely loyal fanbase and a clear brand and identity, even down to the uniform-style black t-shirts that fans wear that differ only in band logo and art. The audience identifies with the genre, which stands in contrast to genericized genres like pop, rock and rap. It doggedly maintains its own identity and shuns outsiders. As a result, fans tend to identify more with their music, and place a higher value on purchasing it,” as the website DeathMetal.org put it.

Of course using Iron Maiden as an example of how a new business model can save an industry is a bit like focussing on what some of the positive impacts are of lower banana prices for Chiquita, while disregarding what it means to banana farmers….

Google Android has more than quarter billion followers in China

Google’s Android operating system looks to be more popular than the Communist party in China – at least according to a recent study by the Chinese search engine Baidu.

The figures for actual users are a bit hazy…a bit like Beijing at midday, really. OK, Beijing at midday is downright foggy, but still – the point is that the number is a bit of a guesstimate, as there aren’t any centralized office that looks into this sort of thing in China.

Instead Baidu have had to count trends and then do a bit of creative maths.

Much like the Chinese Communist Party when they do their ‘user satisfaction’ studies, then….

Drone goes off course – slams into US Navy cruiser

A malfunctioning drone decided to ‘head for home’ as it were, and ended up ramming into a ship belonging to ‘mother’ – ie the US Navy.

The ship in question was the Chancellorsville, which took part in operations like Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom….and now also Operation I’m Sure It Will Fly Past No Wait ITSSTILLCOMINGSTRAIGHTFORUSRUNRUNRUN!!!!

Toronto family goes back to 1986

A family in Toronto has donned the mullet, cranked up the poodle rock to eleven and set all dials to 1986 by removing all technology made after that year from their lives.

Blair McMillan and his girlfriend, Morgan, along with their two kids, Trey, 5, and Denton, 2, are, as the Toronto Sun, who first reported the story, living without:

“computers, no tablets, no smart phones, no fancy coffee machines, no Internet, no cable, and – from the point of view of many tech-dependent folks – no life.”

The article is a very interesting insight into how technology is everywhere in our moderns lives.