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This Week in Tech

Cryptojacking Malverts plague Google

What a mouthful! The premonition that 2018 would be the year of the rise of cryptojacking seems to be morphing into reality faster than expected. Both Google's mainstream ads and YouTube ads made the news this week as being targeted by Malvertising syndicates. The basic idea is to place adverts using Google's DoubleClick ad service. The ads though, contain code that sets the computer they are displayed on to mining cryptocurrency - and can use up to 80% of the computer's processing power to do so.

Trend Micro (an anti-virus / anti-malware company) published the breach on their blog on 26 January. On the same day Ars Technica published that YouTube was affected by the same problem. Confiant (a digital advertising company) has released a report detailing how last year 28 fake ad agencies were created by criminals in order to generate over 1 billion views of 'malvertising'. A technical but very interesting read.

So, What is 'Malvertising'?

Malware (anything from ransomware to botnet controllers to cryptocurrency mining software) hidden in advertising that can be displayed on any web page you visit. Some malvertising delivers its payload as soon as the ad is displayed, some need you to click on the advert before they become active. The bad guys create the ads and submit them to ad agencies. The ad agencies display ads on web sites based on algorithms which match you to the content on the web site. The bad guys have to pay for the ad to be shown, but they potentially gain so much more when you are infected. Digital Guardian has a great, in-depth explanation of malvertising here.

So why is cryptojacking bad?

As malware goes, cryptojacking doesn't seem so bad - after all, it doesn't destroy your data... What does it do? It sets your computer to doing the complex mathematical calculations needed to 'mine' a cryptocurrency. For you, your computer slows down and goes into overdrive with 80% of your CPU's time being spent on the mining operation. This also means that your computer runs hotter and uses more power. For the hacker; they don't have to buy expensive mining computer hardware - or pay the expensive electricity bills that go with mining cryptocurrency. They just collect the cryptocurrency that gets mined.

Password problems....

In the meanwhile it has emerged that the fake missile alert in Hawaii mentioned in last week's blog could have had a much quicker resolution. It turns out the Governor of Hawaii wanted to tweet a message saying the alert was fake mere minutes after the alert went out. Why didn't he do so? He forgot / didn't know his password....

XKCD's take....

Hawaii

Car makers are tracking you - whether you know it or not.

The Washington Post exposes how car makers are gathering data from their products. A fascinating read.

Net Neutrality explained - with burgers!

In case you have missed it, Net Neutrality legislation in the US has been repealed, opening up the possibility for various abuses of the internet by the telecommunications companies that own the infrastructure. Many people don't really understand what this means. Burger King created an ad to illustrate the problem using burger sales in their stores.

Primates Cloned in China.

Not a direct tech story - but rather a biotech story that is made possible by IT. Chinese scientists have successfully cloned two long tailed macaque monkeys.

The quote below explains its significance:

"The technical barrier of cloning primate species, including humans, is now broken,"
- Qiang Sun, Lead Researcher

Little Ripper - Hero Drone

A drone saved two boys from drowning on its first day of use.

That's the news for this week. Happy teaching!

Welcome back for 2018

Welcome back from what has hopefully been a good, refreshing, energising break.

The holiday period has seen quite a bit of activity in the tech sector - including some far reaching hacks and bugs. There's a lot of it, and so this blog will have little discussion and lots of links...

Here's a short summary of (some) of the most important news and activities:

Hacks & Bugs:

A huge security hole in CPU microcode and hardware affects almost all CPUs made since 1995. OS vendors have to patch to work around the hole. Endless articles about the issue are available online. This article makes the issue comprehensible. Also includes a great graph showing the relative speeds of memory and storage.

Swatting is when you make a fake emergency call to the Police to get them to send a SWAT team to raid the house of someone who has been irritating / annoying you in your game. This article shows how it can go wrong.

This malware will even record conversations that take place when you are in a specific location! It feels like a type of 'James Bond 007' spy app with some pretty insane capabilities.

Someone pushed the wrong button. For 38 minutes a whole American state's inhabitants thought they were about to be nuked.

The state of the IT industry

A fascinating read for the gear heads out there. TLDR; the overhead of modern OS and multitasking means that yes, it takes longer for a letter to appear on your screen when you press a key today than it did on an Apple II!

Excellent read!

Social Implications

A New York Times article looking at the possible robot impact on jobs in the future. Good read.

According to Wired though, the answer might be to learn to use Spreadsheets (perfect for CAT learners).

An interesting article that looks at the rise and fall of technologies through the years.

Speculative research is that online porn used over 5 million Kwh of power in 2016. That's a lot of power! The article shows that porn consumption has increased due to the internet - so much so that the cost of power overwhelms the savings made by getting rid of physical products such as DVDs (and their packaging).

Africa produces about 5% of the world's e-waste but recycles almost none of it. Around 44 million tons of e-waste (TV sets, smartphones, etc) was dumped last year alone. A study speculates that the gold, silver, copper & other valuable materials that were not recovered is around $55 Billion.


New Tech

  • Rollable TV screen

Leads to...

Bad news: Not planned for commercial release anytime soon...

Really interesting & short.

56 cores, 3Tb of RAM, 1700w power supply (4 household fridge's worth), 10Gb ethernet, TWO nVidia Quadro graphics cards... A maxed out spec costs over $69 000 (nearly 1 million bucks!). Just think of your gaming performance ;)....

ENI is a gas and oil company that has successfully used supercomputers for prospecting (it found huge gas fields in Mozambique and Egypt). It has expanded its supercomputing power to a 18 Teraflop machine in Milan.

Imagine your laptop is always on, always connected (just like your tablet) and its battery can last more than a day. The idea of Windows running on low power ARM CPUs could make this possible. Microsoft has a proof of concept - but real world performance is still to be seen. It would have to be a lot better than the discontinued Windows RT for anyone to be convinced...

And that's it for this week. Welcome back and happy teaching.

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