Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for November 7, 2019

in rsslog •  5 days ago 

Lasers can issue silent commands through microphones intended for voice control; A TED talk on the importance of transforming adversaries into allies; DNA genealogy could be a national security nightmare; Russian bird researchers broke their budget with roaming charges from tracking devices; and a Steem report describing China's planned cislunar economic zone between the Earth and the Moon


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  1. Lasers can silently issue 'voice commands' to your smart speakers - In a recent paper, researchers from Tokyo and the University of Michigan have described the method, involving the use of lasers, that they used to take over a number of different voice controlled devices. In one example, they were able to use a laser from a separate building to trick the digital assistant into opening a garage door. The digital assistants use a small plate, described as a diaphragm, to detect vibrations in the air and interpret those vibrations into voice commands, but through the use of lasers, these researchers were able to silently cause matching vibrations. The researchers said, "they could've easily made online purchases, opened doors protected by smart locks and even remotely unlocked cars connected to voice AI-powered devices by using the same method. " A complete list of devices that were hacked using this method includes: "Google Home/Nest, Echo Plus/Show/Dot, Facebook Portal Mini, Fire Cube TV, EchoBee 4, iPhone XR, iPad 6th Gen, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2". Manufacturers, including Tesla, Ford, Amazon, Apple and Google have been notified of the issue. The researchers also note that putting tape over the microphone won't solve the problem, and the microphones need to be reengineered. I guess the moral of the story is: Until this is fixed, don't keep your digital assistants in site of a window.

    Here is a video:


  • The business case for working with your toughest critics - This TED talk was posted in July and came across the RSS feed for ted.com on November 4. In the talk, Bob Langert discusses his 1980s era insight that an organizations toughest critics can also be its best allies. He says he learned this lesson when he was thrown into the controversy over the Styrofoam containers that McDonald's was using for its sandwiches at the time. In order to reduces pressure on the company from environmentalists, As a McDonald's executive Langert spent a long time working in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and came up with numerous innovations that improved the company's bottom line and also helped the environment. After learning this lesson, he said he went on to meet with animal rights advocates and use their input to set up animal welfare standards that turned out to be good for the business, and for the livestock. And later, he coordinated work between McDonald's and Green Peace to work together on saving the Amazon by instituting a moratorium on clear-cutting in the Amazon River basin. His tips for working with an organizations toughest critics include: (i) Assume the best intentions of your critics; (ii) Look past the tactics; (iii) Focus on finding the right thing to do - scientifically and for the business; and (iv) Give the critics the "keys to the back room" by being open and transparent."

  • The DNA database used to find the Golden State Killer is a national security leak waiting to happen - The GEDmatch is best known for its role in catching the Golden State Killer, when police were able to use DNA mapping to trace through relatives back to the killer from the 1970s/80s era killings in California. However, this article points out that security flaws in the web site could expose personal health information to bad actors in the American economy, and it could also serve as a source of biometric information for foreign adversaries like China or Russia. In a new report, researchers describe how they were able to successfully infer up to 90% of DNA of other users by uploading a profile and searching the matches. The method used did not involve hacking the site, and it is not illegal, so it's possible that it has already been employed by governments, who could use it for things like biometric targeting, identification of spies and diplomats, or finding leverage for blackmail like vulnerable family members or unacknowledged children. Other companies like 23andme and MyHeritage.com are not vulnerable to this exploit. 23andme does not allow users to upload their own data, MyHertiage does, but their search capability is much more limited. Researcher, Peter Ney, says that GEDmatch has updated their algorithm to protect against the method he described, but given the massive amount of data, Ney still doesn't believe that the volunteer-run site is secure.

  • Not Free, Bird: Russian Researchers Were Bankrupted by Their Tagged Eagles’ Roaming Charges - Russian researchers who were studying the Steppe eagle fitted the birds with trackers that were rigged to send text messages with location updates to the researchers. The researchers expected that the birds would spend the summer in a region of Kazakhstan with no wireless signals, and then transmit the queued messages when the birds returned to their cellular network. Unfortunately, the researchers didn't anticipate that some of the birds would fly all the way past Kazakhstan to Iran, where cellular coverage is good, but it's on a different calling plan. As a result of 4 messages per bird per day at a roaming rate of $0.77, the research budget was blown and the conservation team had to set up a gofundme account. Fortunately, researchers have raised enough in donations to cover their roaming charges through the end of the year.

  • STEEM Space economy: China wants to set up $10 trillion Earth-Moon economic zone - According to this report by @rt-international - citing China's Bao Weimin, who heads up the commission on science and technology at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST) - China wants to create a $10 trillion economic zone in the areas of space that are near the Earth, near the Moon, and in between the two. The project is targeted for completion in 2050, with a milestone in 2030 for completion of basic technology, and another in 2040 for completion of transport technology. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @rt-international)


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    Items #1 and #3 are intrinsically related. Code is just 1's and 0's. There is no secure computer. Computers that scan DNA have been infected with malware using DNA crafted for the purpose. Cars with computers have been hacked by shining lights on their lights, playing sounds into the speakers, and on and on. Every interface is a conduit for hackers that understand computers.

    No data on a computer is secure, nor ever will be. Worse yet, every commercially available chipset is backdoored at the factory by various state and other actors.

    Criticism is my most valued currency, for the reasons given in #2. Absent criticism, without opposition, I cannot change my mind when I am wrong, or become better than I am. Fear keeps me on my toes. Shame enables me to avoid regret, and regret to avoid shame.

    A man is only defined by his enemies, crafted by his obstacles, and proven by his transcendence.

    Thanks!

    Thanks for the feedback, and thanks for reading! I appreciate the insightful commentary that you so-often add to these posts.

    I agree with you on all points, although it is sometimes hard for me to get past the reflexive feeling of defensiveness when confronted with criticism. And, when watching the TED talk on listening to critics, I wondered how realistic it is to ask most businesses to be transparent in that sort of situation. Nice idea, but I think it would be hard (or impossible) for most corporations to put into practice.

    It is our human condition that has conditioned us to defend ourselves from criticism, and it is a trait I often lament with regret in myself. Fortunately I am not a corporation, and do not need to convince a committee to do so. I can barely do it to me =p.

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