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Study Opportunities' Blog

Make your phone a Science Lab

If you have an Android phone then Google has just released a cool app called Science Journal (get it here for free on the Google Play store). You use the app to record data from the sensors on your device (light, sound, movement) - which you can use as measuring equipment in experiments! The app also connects to Arduino powered electronics for additional sensors and data. The Google for education post about the software is here. Tell your school's science teacher about it - it's really great for use in practical physics experiments.

Some follow up on previous news:

  • SARS has identified 1700 South Africans in the Mossac Fonseca leak and will be investigating possible tax evasion with perpetrators facing large fines and / or jail time.
  • The robots march onward: Foxconn (the Chinese electronics manufacturing giant that makes, amongst other things, Apples iDevices and Samsung gadgets) has just replaced 60 000 workers with robots.
  • SWIFT hacked again. In March we linked to an article on how a spelling error foiled a hack attempt which would have seen the cybercriminals get away with $1 billion. Instead they only got $81 million. They did this by hacking SWIFT - the system used by banks to transfer money internationally. This week SWIFT was hacked again and the criminals got $12 million. Details here at The Hacker News.

SCARY: Old tech runs nuclear missiles....

How scary? Remember floppy disks? Not stiffies (as they were known in South Africa) not even the large old 5 1/4" floppy disk drives that held 360 K of data and powered the first Apple and IBM personal computers. No we are talking about the giant 8" floppy disks used in 1970's IBM mainframes.

Well, those same floppy disks and 1970's IBM mainframes are still being used to control Americas Nuclear missiles, bombers and other related military tech. Even older 1950's mainframe based outdated tech is the backbone of American Tax data, whilst other American departments still run systems that use DOS! CNBC has a summary of the revelations.

The full detailed tech report (for the real geeks) is available as a PDF here.

Short snippets for this week:

  • A tortoise that had 85% of its shell damaged in a forest fire has been given a new 3D printed shell. Read the details at www.3dprinter.net.
  • Local piracy: Research says 33% of software in SA is pirated.
  • Artificial Intelligence Rulez! A professor at Georgia Tech created a chatbot powered by IBMs Watson computer technology to act as a Teaching Assistant for his computer science class. The bot monitored online discussion groups about the course to give students advice and answer their questions. Most students didn't realise they were talking to a computer and some even wanted to nominate it as best teaching assistant! Read it on The Next Web.
  • The Week's big South African HACK: Standard bank had R300 million stolen. Hackers got hold of credit card details, created fake cards and used those cards at ATMs in Japan to draw cash to the value of R300 million. Around 100 people used 1400 ATMs to draw the cash over a period of about 2 - 3 hours. This was a big, co-ordinated, planned attack. Standard bank says the loss will be carried by the bank - no clients will be affected. Read about it at IT Web and - a shorter version with an infographic - at My Broadband.

Until next week....

Skimer is coming to get you(r cash)

Another day, another malware.

Card skimmers are physical devices that criminals attach to ATM machines to copy the magnetic stripe information from bank cards as they are put into the ATM. They are usually used with a hidden camera which spies on you as you type in your PIN code.

The problem with card skimmers is that, because they are physical devices, an alert customer can spot that there is something wrong with the ATM.

For the criminals there are two solutions to this problem:

1) Use more creative hardware

The trend for computer kit to get smaller and thinner doesn't only apply to your smartphone. Since 2014 criminals have been able to create card skimmers so thin and small that they fit inside the card slot of the ATM - making the skimmer that much harder to detect. Krebs on Security has a great and detailed article on this here.

2) Make the ATM your card skimmer

Since 2009 criminals have figured out that using malware to infect an ATM can turn the whole machine into a card skimmer - no extra hardware or camera required. The malware was called Skimer and it is back in the news again this week because; surprise, surprise; there's a new version of the malware that's just crawled out of the woodwork (making a total of 49 versions of this malware). This new version was discovered by Kaspersky and you can read the details here.

What is new is that the malware hides itself and only becomes active when a specific 'magic' card is inserted into the ATM. The card contains activation codes on its magnetic stripe that set the malware into action. The criminal is given a menu of options which include the functions:

  • pay out 40 banknotes
  • start collecting user data
  • print out user data
  • update the malware from the card
  • remove (delete) the malware from the machine

A big advantage of using malware like this is that the ATM customer has absolutely no way of telling that their data is being stolen. The criminal can also chose to run the skimmer function when and how they need, generally making the criminal activity harder to detect.

'Till next week..

Revised format...

This blog is still finding its feet. Apparently some readers feel that posts are too long, they don't like scrolling and explanations / elaboration of content is unnecessary. Therefore the format change. Bullets and links....

That's it for this week


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