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This Week in Tech

Manslaughter - by text and a phone call

Seems like that old nursery chant: 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me' is no longer quite as true as we'd like to believe. Last week a judge in Massachusetts found a 17 year old young woman guilty of manslaughter for using text messages and a phone call to encourage and convince her 18 year old boyfriend to commit suicide.

“This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words,”
- Matthew Segal, lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

Our learners live in a world where constant communication and the pressures of social media are pervasive. They often post private messages to each other and public messages on social media without giving a moments thought to the impact, implication, consequences or possible collateral damage these messages might cause. As educators, we need to take the time and effort to repeatedly draw to their attention cases that vividly illustrate this - cases that redefine the law and our society. This is one such case. The New York Times has a good article on the topic, but if you have already used up your free access for the month, here's a link at CNN. If nothing else, this could open the door to Manslaughter / Murder becoming, of all things, a cybercrime.

Human error - again

Computers are stupid. they only do what you tell them to do, so you better make sure that you tell them to do the right thing. One young person, first day on the job, just out of University, unguided and working according to a document telling him how to set up his own test development database did what many of our learners do: he copied the code in the document and executed it unmodified. The result: the entire companies database deleted. Gone. Unrecoverable. The CTO promptly fired him and he posted about his experience on Reddit. Many readers have come out in support of him and believe that the CTO should have been the one to lose his job.

A complete nightmare situation. A business almost down the tubes because of human error. I say almost, because surely there were backups and recovery, though tedious and inconvenient, would be possible? Wrong! Seems like there was a problem with the databases and backups were not being restored. A company that provides a document containing a potentially destructive code snippet to a complete noob for unsupervised use is not likely to make sure they follow the best backup procedure in the world. More human error, compounding the original human error...

Quartz Media has a nice article based on the incident.

Robot, Robots, Robots

Harvard students seem to want to prove that robots can be made from anything - they are developing a spider like robot made from drinking straws and powered by air.

And now, a robot that crawls up your butt - to make an unpleasant medical procedure weirder but less unpleasant. Curious? Check it out at Boing Boing.

This robot uses AI to figure out how to pick up almost anything.

In Shanghai, an automatic, self-driving supermarket cruises the streets....

Finally, the BBC has a short segment from Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, chief engineer at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on 5 robots set to change the world.

Click Fraud

Motherboard has an article on a click fraud farm busted in Thailand. Fascinating visuals and a glimpse into the world where fake likes, ratings, etc are manufactured on demand.

In Russia though, this type of click fraud is out in the open. Here's an article about a vending machine that sells Instagram likes and followers!

Lying AI

Whilst Google seems intent on creating AI's that defeat humans at complex games demanding strategy and insight, Facebook has built itself an AI that has learnt to lie to get what it wants. Appropriate for a system where most people create fake representations of a perfect life? A fascinating read.

AI, self driving cars and Insurance

Some interesting questions raised in this article from Readwrite.com.

Scary new malware infection technique

Digital trends has an article on how hovering your mouse over a link in a PowerPoint slide can automatically download and install malware (no clicking required).

Ransomware Ponzi scheme

A Ponzi scheme is a pyramid scheme. Popcorn Time is a new type of malware tries to maximise its profits by using the strategy behind a pyramid scheme - when you get infected and your data is encrypted and held ransom, you are given a choice: either pay up or deliberately infect at least 2 others to 'free' your data. What would you do? The New York Times has the details, also at Fortune.com.

That's it for this week - good luck with the last of exams and the reports....

Comments

Of Hackers, Squirrels, Cybercrime and making money in the 'sharing economy'

This week's highlights: South Africa's new Cybercrimes Bill published, the dangers of squirrels and what an Uber driver can expect to earn.

Cybercrimes Bill

The final draft of the new Cybercrimes Bill has been published online. The bill has still to be debated in parliament and passed into law. It might be a good idea to download the pdf and discuss it with your more senior students.

Uber Income

My Broadband has a great article on what Uber drivers can expect to earn in South Africa. The article includes an image (shown below) from an Uber spreadsheet showing the average earnings for drivers broken down by hour and day of week.

Uber is, of course, part of the 'sharing economy' along with other services such as AirBnB. The idea is that you rent out things that you have to others whilst you are not using them - and so make extra income. They also save consumers money - an Uber ride is cheaper than a normal taxi. An Airbnb stay is a lot cheaper than a normal hotel (think: 5 nights in Paris for 2 at only R7 500!).

Dark web Marketplaces

CSOOnline has a fascinating read on dark web marketplaces, how they operate, what they sell. You need to register (free) to read the whole article. Worth it.

Which is worse - a squirrel or a hacker?

The answer, it seems, is that almost any animal is more dangerous than a hacker - to power grids around the world that is.

Much has been made of the potential dangers of hackers and cyber warriors infiltrating power grids and disabling them, causing chaos and harm to the civilian community at large. Chris Thomas created a project called Cyber Squirrel to track the harm animals do to power grids as opposed to known cyber attacks. The project tracks and classifies power grid disruptions by automating web searches for articles on power outages. The cause is noted and the outage classified. Boing Boing has a nice summary. Of course, the cynics (and conspiracy theorists) will say that this study is obviously false because hack attacks will be hushed up and reported as something else...

E-waste piles up in Asia

Engadget has an article detailing how e-waste in Asia has dramatically increased over the years, reaching 12.3 million tons in 2015.

How Hackers Really Crack Your Passwords

DNews put up this video on youtube. Worth a watch - along with others on their channel. A good resource for interesting snippets.

Point out to the learners that hackers using this technique have managed to hack a site and download the user database. The database contains the user names (usually in plain text) and passwords (usually encrypted and stored as a 'hash'). because they have the data available locally the hacker is able to use powerful tools to try to crack the passwords by working directly on the local data.

Beware the Google Phish

Boing Boing has an article on a clever new phishing malware. It checks through the gmail contacts of an infected account looking for mails with attachments. It then 'replies' to these mails - except it changes the attachment into a fake Google account logon page that looks exactly like the real thing. Unsuspecting victims 'logon' to 'Google' and they are then immediately infected.

Cyber Safety videos

Planet Nutshell makes videos. They made a cartoon series called Net Safe targeted at Grades 3 - 12 in the USA that introduces concepts such as Personal Information, Privacy and basic cyber security.

They even cover sexting, wi-fi security, mobile location security, distracted driving, cyber bullying and the dos and font's of posting pictures online.

Although these videos may seem simplistic, they do ensure a good basic grasp of the concepts.

A resource worth having / looking at!

We warned you about plagiarism...

CNN has an article on how plagiarism has forced a person Donald Trump picked for a national security post to decline the job. We know the temptation is great, that you are under pressure for time / lazy or just don't know what to do... but the message is clear: whatever you do, don't plagiarise!

Fake news corner

We're not the only ones concerned about fake news. Just after last week's blog went live, The Citizen published their round up of fake South African news for the week. Take a look...

Rio scales up Cybercrime for Olympics

If your learners need proof that Cybercrime is an industry - and an increasing threat to the general public - CSOOnline.com has an article on how malicious URLs (fake web sites for phishing, hacking, etc) have grown by 83% in preparation for the Olympics that start today. The New York Post has a more detailed article on the topic. A general prediction is that attempts to breach the cyber security of the event itself will be four times greater than the 165 million attacks recorded during the 2012 Olympics in London. Tripwire.com has some common sense tips to avoid being scammed / hacked whilst visiting the Olympics.

This might be a great opportunity for a task on Cybercrime for your class - a lot of information is available and you can easily break them up into groups and get them to do things such as:

  • Create an informative glossary of cyber crime terms for Olympic spectators
  • Create a few plausible phishing sites and a guide on how to identify them
  • Write an expose on how prevalent Cybercrime is in Brazil and how poorly it is policed
  • Write a short story entering on an Olympic spectator's experience with cybercrime
  • Create posters that could be put up to warn users of the dangers of free wifi
  • Make a short informative video / animation warning people about what to look out for on the streets of Rio

Phones, Security, Fingerprints and 3D Printers

Earlier this year we saw the whole drama about the FBI trying to force Apple to unlock a phone used by a terrorist. Now police in Michigan needed to unlock the phone of a murder victim to search for clues to the identity of the murderer. They managed to make a 3D scan of the victim's fingerprints and then create a 3D print of the fingerprints good enough to unlock his Samsung Galaxy S6 phone. Read about it here at qz.com.

Australia is changing its longitude and latitude

We all know the earth moves. That's why there are earthquakes. Well, tectonic shifts mean that Australia moves around 7 cm per year. Overall Australia has moved around 1.5m since 1994. That's a problem - for GPS and self driving vehicles. An error of 1.5m is large when you are trying to keep a car on the road.Officially changing the longitude and latitude fixes this problem. It is also a problem for some even more commonly used self-driving tech: farm equipment! Check out this article at CNet for some insight into tech and farming. There's a great video showcasing some of the tech built into John Deere farm equipment that should awe your learners too!

An illustration of Global Warming in action

If you have been paying attention to the news you will know that the world has just completed a streak of 14 months of record average temperatures - a streak that shows no sign of stopping in the near future. This article from the Washington Post contains some animated graphs worth looking at (and showing to your learners).

That's all for this week. Happy teaching!

Cyber Crime history made

The UK started including Cyber Crime in its crime survey for the first time last year. Surveys do not include the whole population - so the statisticians who run them make projections from the data that they do receive from the survey. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) "estimated that there were 2.46 million cyber incidents and 2.11 million victims of cyber crime in the U.K. in 2015”.

Policing, especially in cyberspace, is no longer the exclusive preserve of law enforcement. The private sector, academia, and citizens themselves all need to be involved’

INTERPOL 22 January 2016

The National Crime Agency report can be found here and is very interesting reading. Particularly useful is the differentiation between Cyber dependant and Cyber Enabled crime:

  • Cyber-dependent crimes can only be committed using computers, computer networks or other forms of information communication technology (ICT). They include the creation and spread of malware for financial gain, hacking to steal sensitive personal or industry data and denial of service attacks to cause reputational damage.
  • Cyber-enabled crimes, such as fraud, the purchasing of illegal drugs and child sexual exploitation, can be conducted on or offline, but online may take place at unprecedented scale and speed.

Krebs On Security reports the article as follows: According to the NCA, cybercrime emerged as the largest proportion of total crime in the U.K., with “cyber enabled fraud” making up 36 percent of all crime reported, and “computer misuse” accounting for 17 percent. I am unable to find those figures in the document, but if correct then computer related crime adds up to 53% OF UK CRIME.

Bratwurst Bot - The Independent Robot Chef

A robot that takes orders then cooks and serves the required sausages independently recently performed flawlessly at a German Government event - delivering over 200 perfectly grilled Bratwurst! Take a look at the video of it in action over at Engadget,

New Graphics from nVidia and storage from Seagate.

nVidia's new TitanX graphics card includes 128 Gb of Ram includes 3 584 cores running at 1.5 Ghz delivering 11 teraflops of computing power. It costs $1200 (around R17 000).

Seagate has a new desktop drive with a 10 Tb capacity - that will cost you $535 (around R 7 600). For comparison the first 1Terabyte drive became available in 2007 and cost $399.

Referencing tool for Creative Commons images

We always have a problem getting our learners to reference properly. ImageCodr.org is a useful tool that will help them to generate correct references for Creative Commons images found on Flikr.

That's it for this week - happy teaching!

Great programming game - a must have for IT teachers & learners

AWESOME new game 'Human Resource Machine' is effectively a machine code level programming simulator - with great animation that illustrates how the instructions are executed. The entire computer simulator has only 11 commands. It works a little like Scratch but has specific goals and tasks that mirror a lot of what you teach in the classroom.


The game is only $9.99 and available direct from the developers but can also be found on the iOS App store, Steam, & GOG. It works on PC, MAC, Linux & iOS. You want a great game that teaches your learners to think like a programmer? Get this game for your classroom and encourage them to get copies for themselves.

27 MILLION scam messages = 2 ½ years in jail, $310 000 in fines. Sanford Wallace, the self-titled 'Spam King' has been sentenced - for Spamming Facebook users in 2008 - 2009.The wheels of justice grind slow indeed. The article detailing the spammer's misdeeds and his punishment can be found here on Boing Boing.

3DPrint.com has a story (and photos) on how a Chinese construction company 3D Printed a 400 square meter, 2 storey house.

A short while ago we spoke about deep-insert card skimmers used in ATM machines. Krebs on Security has a new article which includes video showing how these skimmers are inserted into an ATM mechanism - and retrieved.

Not IT related specifically but still amazing: CNN has an article on a man who lived 555 days without a heart. Here's the artificial heart he relied on to stay alive whilst waiting for a transplant.

Sadly, SpaceX's latest attempt to land a rocket on a barge failed - it seems as if an engine ran out of fuel and cut out before the rocket could land, resulting in an impact do hard it 'accordion' the engines on the rocket.

That's it for this week. happy teaching!

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