If you were given the opportunity to curate a historical museum about the Internet, what would you include? Now's your chance to add to the collection of The Big Internet Museum, a virtual hall exhibiting the milestones and memes of the 43-year history of the World Wide Web. The online museum project was created by Dutch advertising pros Dani Polak, Joep Drummen and Joeri Bakker.
The collection begins precisely on October 29 1969, the day when former NASA researcher, Robert William Taylor, launched the ARPAnet operational network for the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The network is widely recognized as the precursor of what we now know as the Internet.
The exhibit concludes with South Korean megastar Psy, whose 2012 song "Gangnam Syle" became the first video to tally one billion views on YouTube.
As you can imagine, the space between those two bookends spans all that is significant and silly about the network platform that, for better or worse, has redefined our lives. America Online (AOL), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), .GIFs, chat lingo, Hyper Text markup Language (HTML), Flash, Google, Facebook -- even Double Rainbow guy -- get equal billing in this gallery. But that's only a smattering of the collection.
A team of encryption specialists has figured out a way to communicate with each other using silence. No, it's not a Cold War era spy trick, but it's still very tricky. Welcome to SkypeHide.
The group that created the technique for SkypeHide was led by Wojciech Mazurczyk, an assistant professor of computer networks and switching at the Warsaw University of Technology. Mazurczyk and his colleagues specialize in network steganography. Spy nerds know that's the science of hiding information and messages within computer networks.
SkypeHide works using something called "packet hijacking." Mazurczyk, along with Maciej Karaś and Krzysztof Szczypiorski, found that whenever we use Skype, the program keeps sending 70-bit data packets during the silences that occur within a conversation. So the computer scientists put their own secret messages into those data packets, according to Nancy Owano at Phys.org.
Mazurczyk told Owano, "The secret data is indistinguishable from silence-period traffic, so detection of SkypeHide is very difficult." This opens up the potential to transmit secret text, audio files and even video during a red herring conversation that's happening. At best, the speed for transmitting these secret messages was 1 kilobit per second, which isn't superfast but could be fast enough to communicate something important.
Spy techniques can backfire, though. What if this technique gets into the wrong hands? Hopefully that long pause between birthday greetings doesn't end up being an ideal time for terrorists to touch base. If secret messages are discovered and have a criminal connection, a law enforcement entity could compel Skype to share messages stored temporarily on its server.
Skype does tells its users to be careful. As much as the site tries to protect users, the site can't guarantee their safeguards "will prevent every unauthorized attempt to access, use or disclose personal information."
More answers may be forthcoming later this summer, when the Warsaw University of Technology group plans to present SkypeHide at the ACM Workshop on Information Hiding and Multimedia Security in Montpellier, France. In the meantime, if you want to send some secret spy messages, there's always the classics: a red flag in the flowerpot or the chalk mark on the mailbox.
Hackers said a big Happy New Year to the Council on Foreign
Relations, using the organization's own website to attack unsuspecting visitors.
The CFR is a non-partisan policy group, known mostly for
publishing Foreign Affairs, an influential journal on the subject. The group's
website was infected with malware that uses a "watering hole" attack
-– waiting for users to visit the site before downloading the malware to their
machines. The malware involved allows a hacker to execute code remotely on the
Ziv Mador, director of security research at Trustwave, an IT
security firm, told Disovery News that it isn't clear yet what the malware
does. "We're still working on it," he said. "It's a pretty
complex piece of malware."
The malware only works on Internet Explorer 8 or earlier versions. The hackers altered the HTML code on the CFR's website itself and were able to remotely execute a program on any computer that accessesed the site. The malware was hidden in several pieces and
stored in areas that the web page needed to go to in order to retrieve stored content such as
is usually used for a completely different purpose," he said.
Microsoft is reportedly working on a permanent fix, and
issued a security
and Flash, according to Microsoft, but sometimes turning those two features on an off for different sites can be inconvenient. Users of Internet Explorer 9 and later
While the particular attack on the CFR website used a
previously unknown vulnerability in Internet Explorer, the "watering
hole" attack is nothing new: a local government site in Maryland and a
bank in Boston were hit by one called VOHO in July, which infected targeted
computers with code that sent information such as keystrokes back to a server.
Graves Get QR Codes: QR codes, those white and black pixelated images that work like bar codes for smartphone cameras, are being put to good use in Canada. At a cemetery in Bodelwyddan, the codes have been put on 80 graves where more than 17,000 Canadian servicemen and women from World War I are buried. A visitor can scan the code with her phone and get information about how a person died. Most of the Canadians buried there died in the global flu pandemic of 1918 to 1919. But a few graves belong to soldiers who are thought to have died during mutinous riots at the nearby Kinmel Park camp in March 1919. The codes were added as part of a community-based information project called HistoryPoints.org. via BBC News
We've told you before about remote-controlled cockroaches being strapped with steering wheels so that the insects could help rescue earthquake victims. Now roaches are skittering into a more aesthetic venue -- the art gallery. As part of the "Life, in some form" exhibit by the Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC), Dallas-based artist Brittany Ransom debuted her Twitter-Remote-Controlled Cockroach.
Similar to the RoboRoach, Ransom's device used a small electronic backpack that attached to the cockroach's antenna, enabling the insect to respond to stimulated left or right commands. Using Arduino hardware and custom-programmed software, Ransom was able to link the roach to Twitter. Visitors to the exhibit could send commands to the @TweetRoach account such as #TweetRoachLeft and #TweetRoachRight.
As her artist bio explains, Ransom likes to explore the "paradoxical bond between human, nature, its inhabitants and the
co-evolution between the living and budding technological innovation
while questioning these technologies."
Ransom told CNET that her project mirrors the digital overstimulation that many of us experience everyday. She also said she wanted to see if the cockroaches could eventually learn to adapt and ignore her system's signals.
"At what point does its intelligence and ability take over? How much does
it take before we are all desensitized to overstimulation?" Ransom wrote in an email to CNET. "As we, as
human beings, grow more cyborgian and interconnected through social
media, this project helps us participate in discovering the answer."
On Tuesday of this week, the Iranian
Students' News Agency (in Farsi) reported that a "Stuxnet-like" computer virus had appeared again, this time infecting systems an Iranian power plant instead of a nucelar power facility. The story also said the attack was repelled. Western news outlets, such as the Associated Press, picked up the story.
Ali Akbar Akhavan, head of Iran’s
Passive Defense Organization, said he
was misquoted, and only said that the country was ready to confront such
attacks. The ISNA later published a story (in Farsi) saying that no attack had occurred. The
incident raises the question of just how concerned others should be
about that kind of
attack. (Full disclosure: I ran both Farsi stories through Google translate).
Stuxnet is a piece of malware discovered in the summer of 2010. It attacks industrial control systems built by Siemens, called supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Most of the infected computers were in Iran.
While this latest attack appears to be a false alarm, it isn’t as if Iranian officials are being needlessly paranoid. Iran has weathered other cyberattacks, such as one earlier
this month from a virus named Batchwiper
that simply wipes data.
Back in April, another data-destroying virus called Wiper
attacked Iranian businesses. Viruses similar to Stuxnet, such as Duqu,
which performs reconnaissance, have appeared in the wild.
The original Stuxnet attack is widely believed to have been
created by either Israel
or the United States. It attacked centrifuges used to purify uranium, causing them to
malfunction and fail. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is geared to
power plants, while the United States and Israel insist the Islamic state is bent on producing nuclear weapons.
The Iranian government has been more pubic about its
capabilities in cyber-defense, and there has been open cyber-warfare in a few
cases, such as in the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia, in which
Georgia accused Russia of targeted attacks
on government computer systems.
In the United States, the big concern is terrorism. Defense Secretary
Leon Panetta warned of a "cyber
pearl harbor" as recently as October.
But there's some question as to what a
terrorist might do in the first place. If some malicious group found a way to
disable a power plant, it isn't clear that anyone would think it wasn't a
"normal" outage, and one that would likely be fixed relatively
The story does show that even rumors can spread fast. As
any chess player knows, sometimes the threat of an attack is as powerful as the
For everyone who recycles their batteries, good for you! Your efforts won't be wasted, at least not in Sweden and the U.K., where a machine with artificial intelligence is being developed to sort all of those batteries so they can be sold for their still-usable components.
The machine, built by Claes Strannegard, an artificial intelligence researcher at the
University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, has a camera and a computerized brain that runs on a neural network. That kind of system works more like a human brain in that it can learn to "see" patterns and respond to them. It's an ability that's important for sorting batteries, which come in a range of different sizes and shapes and contain materials, such as lead, cadmium and steel, that need to be distinguished from one another because they're valuable for resale.
At the recycling plant, batteries are fed to the machine on a conveyor belt. Its
camera takes images of the batteries and its brain compares them to other batteries it has seen before. The machine may then send rechargeable "AA" batteries in one direction and single-use "AAA" batteries with steel casings in another direction.
The machine can
recognize 2,000 different kinds of batteries and identify them in just milliseconds -- much faster than a human. And it can produce real-time information about how many batteries of a given type
-- rechargeable or not, AAAs or Ds -- are
being processed. This helps the recycling plant operator better manage the inventory that can eventually be resold.
The machine works differently from conventional mechanized sorters that scan for bar codes or color and are unable to discern a battery if it's dinged, dirty, dented or scuffed.
The battery-sorting machine was developed by Optisort, and so
far, the company has delivered two machines -- one to Renova in Gothenburgand
one to G & P Batteries in the U.K., which is sorting one-third of the country’s recycled batteries.
Maybe Skynet will be a sanitation worker rather than a
When a site shows those jumbled characters and asks users to
prove they are human, some people can't read the distorted letters, get frustrated and leave the
site. A startup called MintEye says it has an alternative to the jumbled characters called CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
Instead of showing the squished and elongated letter, MintEye displays its CAPTCHA as a distorted image with text that can be "fixed" with a slider on the bottom. The user
moves the slider until the image looks right, and then the software tells the
website she's moved it far enough.
The MintEye CAPTCHA was invented by Shayke Inbar, one of the
company's founders. Inbar has dyslexia and found it hard to do the standard
The MintEye software makes using CAPTCHA less frustrating for
some people and it might also be a bit more secure in one respect: computers
can be programmed to recognize distorted letters. MintEye would be less
vulnerable to that kind of attack.
Even so, it is possible to write software that would detect
when the slider is at the right point by checking for straight lines in the
image, though that kind of software is harder to write.
MintEye isn't just about security, though. It's also about
advertising. The images MintEye uses could be ads, and that's where the company
makes its money. Some CAPTCHA systems already have ads; MintEye says that
because the user is deciphering the image of whatever it is being sold, the
brand recognition will be stronger.
If news of the impending apocalypse has you bummed that you won't get to sow your wild oats at Yub-Yum, Amsterdam's android sex club of the future, here's something else you're going to miss out on: Sinful Robot. Hyped as the "world's most immersive virtual reality erotic encounter," Sinful Robot, created by a California startup of the same name, is being designed for the forthcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
In what I imagine to be a cross between the Batsignal and the Mudflap girl, Sinful Robot put out a call for 3D programmers, artists and animators on Reddit, also known as the Gotham of the Internet.
Among a lascivious list of, ahem, open positions at Sinful Robot is a 3D character artist. Applicants should be engorged with "expert knowledge of creating realistic female models" and have the ability to create orgasmic "organic models." For those with expert knowledge on the male anatomy, it's not yet clear where you measure up.
Reddit user Illusionweaver69, who claims to be Sinful Robot's co-founder Jeroen Van den Bosch, is giddy about what Oculus Rift and the future holds.
"I have been waiting for many years for technology to become immersive
enough so it [can] trick your brain to accept the virtual reality as reality,
but the Rift does really do that," he wrote. "So now we can finally make
an erotic adventure game that will actually be exciting!"
However, if the Earth does open up like a split piece of fruit on Friday, only to reveal a fiery chasm of magma and crumbling rock, here's a good soundtrack to usher in the end of days. "You Don't Know What's Going On," so take your best friend's hand, shrug, and leap into the great beyond.
Since 2006, computing giant IBM has been making annual predictions about which five innovations will change our lives in the next five years. This year, the company says the biggest impact will come from technological breakthroughs that augment our five senses.
These innovations will come as a result of cognitive computing. With this approach, computers are not programmed but instead use advanced algorithms and circuitry to learn through experiences, find patterns and correlations, create hypotheses and then remember the results -- just like humans do. Cognitive computing systems will be able to see, smell, touch, taste and hear the world in real-time and react accordingly and quickly in ways that will greatly improve our lives. Here are a few examples of what that might mean:
1. SIGHT: Image recognition. Asking computers to look at a library of thousands of images
could help a machine do what a human does intuitively. Forest scenes, for example,
have a different distribution of colors than a cityscape. Once the computer
learns what a forest is supposed to look like, a programmer will show it
thousands of pictures of people doing something like hiking or picnicking. That
way a computer can start to understand what a scene should look like without needing
tags in the image.
If computers could recognize images in this way, then they
can pick out what matters in them -- an important point if one is
aggregating security camera video or using imaging devices to diagnose disease.
2. SOUND: Hearing and translation. For hearing, a similar issue arises: picking out what
matters. Here computers are already pretty good, as speech recognition software
has made a debut on our phones with apps such as Siri. But the same kind of
pattern-learning systems could be applied to sounds as well as vision, and
result in computers that can, for instance, understand baby-talk -- and maybe
even analyze your mood by the tone of your voice. Wouldn't it be great if those customer service robots knew how annoyed you were?
3. TASTE: Flavor breakdown. Then there is taste. Designing a computer that can
experience flavor can break down foods and understand why it is that some
things taste good. That in turn can help chefs design nutritious food or come
up with that perfect pairing of food and wine. (With any luck IBM will do
better than the Nutrimatic).
4. SMELL: Sensing dangerous chemicals. Computers could also learn to smell, picking up on gases
that no human being would be able to detect. Breathalyzers can already pick up
the alcohol content of your blood, but imagine one that could tell you if you
had a kidney ailment or cancer. A machine that could pick up explosives or drugs the way dogs do would be very useful in port security -- and possibly put the K-9 units out of work.
5. TOUCH: Feeling from afar. Haptics already allow us to get some feedback -- there's a hand that transmits pressure, video games that transmit vibrations and touch screens let us control our devices. Take that one step further
and you could actually feel the fabric of a suit on a clothing store's website -- no more having to go all the way there to try it on -- by using the vibration capabilities of your phone. Other uses could include remote medical diagnostics or even surgery.
It's all a part of making computers more human-like and also
more useful. It might even change the way we use computers as profoundly as search
engines and the Internet did. Of course, the question then arises: how human do
we want our computers to be?