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This Week in Tech

Smooth Skullcaps Exhales - pure genius!

GPS. It lets us know where we are on the surface of our huge and amazing planet. Software allows us to combine our position with digitised maps and routing algorithms to find how to get to a specified destination. Our location can even be used to draw up lists of shops / attractions / faculties nearby to us, so that even if we are new to an area we can easily know what destinations are around us.

But, it is never quite so easy to let people know where we are. Sure we can share a location - if we are online and using the same app. Reading out lattitude and longitude co-ordinates to tell someone where we are is tedious - and often inaccurate. What is needed is an easy-to-communicate global standard method for communicating a location on the planet.

Enter "What Three Words". This amazing startup has divided the entire globe into a grid of 3m x 3m squares. Each grid has been given a name made up of three words. 26 Languages are supported (including isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans). These words are easy to remember, easy to communicate and can be typed directly into a mobile app or online browser map to find the location they represent.

It's a unique idea, well worth pushing as a global standard. It has tremendous potential for businesses and customers to quickly and accurately communicate location. In the UK emergency services are adopting it as a standard and it is rapidly garnering support in many other places (including here in SA).

The app (Android and iOS) is free - and so is access to the online map in a browser.

What if the company fails? What happens to your ability to convert locations into words and vice-versa? To quote from the site:


If we, what3words ltd, are ever unable to maintain the what3words technology or make arrangements for it to be maintained by a third-party (with that third-party being willing to make this same commitment), then we will release our source code into the public domain. We will do this in such a way and with suitable licences and documentation to ensure that any and all users of what3words, whether they are individuals, businesses, charitable organisations, aid agencies, governments or anyone else can continue to rely on the what3words system.

Reassuring.

I'd really recommend installing the app, using it and telling as many other people about it as possible.

And the article's headline? That's one of my favourite places to camp.

Digital Trends article.




GauGAN - the AI Artist

A short while ago I wrote about 'This Person Is Not Real' - an AI project that created realistic human faces from scratch. nVidia is experimenting with an app that can turn MS Paint style sketches into realistic looking photographic images. The app is not generally available, relies on computers with AI CPUs (Tensor chips) and so is not something that you can rush out and try.

Some of the resulting images can look like bad uses of the cut, paste and clone stamp tools in Photoshop, but that even this much is possible is pretty amazing.

But the video is cool in a kinda awesome, breathtaking way. Well worth showing your learners.


Google- The serial App, product and Services killer.

I am a voracious reader of news. That's why I write this blog. I manage this by using RSS - and for a long time I relied on Google Reader as my go-to RSS reading tool. Seven years after creating it Google summarily cancelled Reader.

I also enjoy taking (and editing) photos. One of the best plugins tool suites for image editing is called the NIK Suite, of which Viveza is my favourite tool. Google bought the tool in 2012. It dropped prices drastically (from $500 to $130) and then, in 2016, started to give the suite away for free. In 2017 they decided to kill the NIK product line. Luckily Dx0 (a photography software company) bought the brand from them and has continued development.

The list of Apps and Services that have died at the hands of Google is long - and does not include examples such as the NIK photographic plugins (because they were bought out and so did not die). Many of these were not created by Google. They were bought; they had loyal, enthusiastic users who watched their favourite tools languish and die at the hands of a mindless behemoth that consumed them, used them up and excreted them on the dungheap of history.

How long is this list, you ask? Just take a look at KilledByGoogle.

Does that seem like the behaviour of a responsible digital citizen to you?

Talking of irresponsible: Facebook strikes again.

It might be a really good idea to change your Facebook or Instagram password. And anyother password that is the same as your Facebook password (you naughty user you!).

Why? Because it turns out that Facebook kept hundreds of millions of user's data stored on locally accessible computers in plain text (i.e. unencrypted format). That means any Facebook employee (or person with access to the data) could look up the password of almost any Facebook user.

Since 2012.

Liklihood that someone actually looked up your password: Low. Change it anyway, to be safe. And think about just how irresponsible Facebook is when it comes to valuing / protecting your data and your privacy.

Malvertising vs Adware

CSO Online explains (includes a brief explanation of the use of steganography).

Fabian Fights Back - against Ransomware

Great read from the BBC.

Pay by Face

Not sure I'm ready for this. Apparently the Chinese are.

Follow up on Boeing 737 Max 8

Popular Science on software as part of aircraft design.ExtremeTech on how safety features that could have prevented the crashes were 'optional' (expensive) extras. CNN on how pilots with experience on other 737 models were 'trained' on the 737 Max 8 (with no reference to the new MCAS system in the course materials).

Profits over lives. Not looking good for Boeing.

Flat Earth?

I've known about people choosing to believe that the earth is flat for a while. What I have not known is the craziness of the world that these people inhabit. Ars Technica has an article that sums up the content of 'Behind the Curve' - a documentary screening on Netflix, Amazon and Google Play. Not really tech or IT related, but the article is worth reading and the documentary worth watching.

Other Links:


That's it for this week.

Comments

Gif Attack!

Deadly pictures. Farmers becoming hackers. SSDs that can double as RAM. Lasers protecting Salmon. A physical key for safety in the digital world.... This week's news is a mixed batch - most of which sounds and feels a little incredible and sci-fi. Enough credible news outlets have reported on the topics to be reasonably sure that none of it is 'fake news' ;-) [and now I have just used an emoji in a blog post, something I never thought I'd ever do!]. Anyhow, there's a lot in this post that will make you shake your head in disbelief and which you can use to amaze and astound your learners.

Gif Attack.

Gif. The image format that allows for animated images to be shared on the web and through social media. The image format that has been intentionally used to physically attack a human being. You see, people who suffer from Epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights (that's why there are epilepsy warnings for some video games, movies,etc.). So a Trump supporter (who else would be that dumb and malicious) designed a Gif that would trigger a seizure and then sent it to a reporter that they felt was criticising the president too much. He also made his intentions clear by putting “You deserve a seizure for your post” below the image. A Texas jury has just ruled that a Gif image can be considered a deadly weapon. Read the fascinating story at here and here Digital Trends. The person responsible tried to hide his tracks by creating and using a fake twitter account but has been traced and identified.

American farmers pwn their farming equipment.

No, pwn (pronounced 'pone') is not a typo. Well, it actually was originally one when some unknown hacker typed 'pwn' instead of 'own' when describing taking over someone's computer. This 'leetspeak' (language used by the 'elite', the hacking community) term is what American farmers are having to do to their Tractors, Combine Harvesters, and other computerised farming equipment, especially those made by John Deere. A fascinating article on Motherboard describes why and how they are doing this.

"What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market"

Save the Salmon - with lasers

Sea Lice. Parasites that flourish in the nutrient rich environment of a densely packed fish farm. A real problem for fish farmers. Enter.... an underwater drone armed with lasers that shoots to kill! Check out the article on Digital Trends. Or just watch the video below.


Storage or Memory? Both!

The line between storage and memory is being blurred by a new Intel product - the Octane SSD. Ars Technica has a technical but interesting article that is worth a read, more for you to be informed so that you can say to your learners that maybe in the future Ram and Storage will be the same thing. Basically a normal SSD is 10 000 times slower to respond to a read or write request than RAM is. The new Octane SSD is only 10 times slower than RAM! This means that you can choose to use it either as RAM or storage, depending on the needs of the moment. NB: A very exciting and interesting technology that could have a huge impact on hardware of the future! Of course, like most new technology, it is insanely expensive now - expect to pay around R20 000 for less as 375 Gb unit.

The poisoned wine problem

Brian Brushwood presents this video (from his 'Scam School' Youtube Channel) which you can use to have some fun with your learners when doing binary numbers.


A battery that powers chips whilst cooling them

This is a loooooong way off, but holds some very exciting potential. I'm not going to repeat the article so just head over to Engadget and read it there.

Fido. The physical key to your digital security.

This one is also a long way off, but is a potential solution to the 'hackers keep stealing usernames and passwords' problem. Read it at My Broadband. In the meanwhile make sure your learners understand the need for (and use) two factor authentication on any of the sites and services they use that offer it.

Which is the Safest browser?

Google's Chrome remains uncracked at 2017 hacking contest.

PC Building Simulator Game

Your learners might have fun with this. And they can learn something without destroying expensive hardware. Download the software (still in beta) here and check out the video below.


Fake news corner:

  • Social media wrongly identifies the London attacker
  • The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) - the organisation that ranks countries student in academic ability (if you see headlines telling you that, for example, 'Singapore students best at math in the world' then the research and testing has been done by PISA) - currently tests and ranks students in maths, science and language. They are planning to add a test for students ability to identify fake news. Read about it from the BBC.

Other News for the week

That's it for this week. Hope you find it all as amazing, astonishing and interesting as I do. Happy teaching.

Infographics, Fake news and Malware

Welcome back to the blog. A few housekeeping changes this week before we get into the news.

  1. We have decided to enable comments on a trial basis to get feedback from you on the type of news you want to see and to enable you to share ideas, resources, etc. So that comments do not make the posts too long, you need to click on the 'Comments' link at the bottom of the post to view / make comments on the post.
  2. To prevent spam and abuse we have, for the moment, made it so that comments containing links need to be approved before they appear - this is to help prevent the spread of malware / spam.
  3. When you view comments you can also access social media sharing links to each post. Sharing a post that you find interesting will help other teachers to discover and read the blog - and hopefully add value to their teaching as well. Please share if you think the post is worth reading!

Teaching about Fake News

It looks like 2017 is not only the year of fake news, but also the year in which we have to make an important change to the way we talk about the web and web content with our learners.

Yes, it is true that the web enables anyone to publish anything. Yes it is true that this has been a great enabler for people in general to express themselves and spread news that might otherwise be suppressed.

The thing is, the value of the content on the web depends very much on the sense of integrity and responsibility of those creating that content. The current trend of spreading blatant untruths without pause or hesitation or thought for the consequences devalues the web as a source of reliable content. We need to address this issue in the classroom. The least we (and our learners) can do is identify and refuse to spread fake news.

We know that Fake News has become an issue after the creation of both the CAPS and the textbooks and therefore resources for this topic are scarce. We will continue to feature 'Fake News Corner' in all the blogs throughout the year.

Why is Fake News spread?

Three main reasons are:

  1. To make money with sensationalist click-bait
  2. To further specific agendas and protect dubious people / actions / intentions by muddying the truth
  3. Genuine satire meant to create awareness and ridicule various topics.

This Weeks Fake News links:

  • MyBroadband : How to stop falling for fake news on Facebook.
  • Factcheck.org: How to spot fake news.
  • BBC: How do fake news web sites make money?
  • News 24: Alert - USA still requires Visas for South African Travellers
  • CNN: A video showing the very real impact of fake news on an individual refugee in Germany.

And, in other news - to show that accuracy and integrity is important, Wikipedia has banned the use of the Daily Mail (UK Newspaper) as a source because of its unreliability, bias and inaccuracy! Whatever you do, don't use the Daily Mail as a source to check the accuracy of something you think might be fake news! Read it at The Guardian.

Classroom Resources

This week we have a few InfoGraphics that could be useful for your classroom. Finding good material to print and put on your noticeboards / classroom walls is hard. Here's some useful stuff! To check out lots of other interesting infographics visit coolinfographics.com.

Make sure to tell your Art department that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has made 375 000 high res images of art free to download and use as you wish! What an amazing resource! They explain the move to 'open access' here.

Can you spot the phish? This article from CSO Online makes for a great classroom exercise. It shows a number of real phishing emails and asks you to try and identify why they are phishing mails. It also gives explanations that you can share with your learners.

Filleless Malware

We all know that anti-virus software works by scanning files on your storage for known signatures of viruses and other malware. The question is - what happens when the malware does not store itself as a file but simply loads itself into memory, leaving no trace for anti-malware software to find? The answer is that the malware becomes almost impossible to detect and eliminate. The scary thing is that, although a proven concept since 2015, fileless malware is hitting the news in a big way this week. It seems that a spate of this type of attacks against mainly banks has been detected in the last while. The good guys are going have to put in looooong hours to find a solution to this one!

Read about it at Wired and Boing Boing and the Hacker News.

The Ransomware Industry

CSO Online says the stats prove the move away from general malware toward Ransomware. Apparently there was a 6% decline in new types of malware last year - at only 60 million new varieties been listed. They proceed to give various reasons, but the astonishing fact is:

The number of attacks increased 167 times.
Not 167 percent -- 167 times, from 3.8 million ransomware attack attempts in 2015 to 638 million in 2016.

And if you are in any doubt about how Ransomware is becoming big business, read this eye-opener from Boing Boing about the customer service offered by the operators of the Spora Ransomware. They want to make sure you trust that if you pay your files will be decrypted...

Ransomware is not the only type of hacking going commercial. More proof that hacking is being run like a business is the offering of payment for insider information / passwords / logins. The Hacker News has the low down on how porn and credit card numbers is not all that you can buy on the Dark Web.

That's it for this week. We hope you'll start making use of comments and shares - if you think that what we've got to say is worth it!


Comments

You can't repair that!

DRM VS Right to Repair

You buy something, you own it. That means you have the right to fix it if it breaks, right? That's what you might think, but that's not always the case in the world of tech - and tech driven products (which can include anything from cars to combine harvesters). The right to repair problem in South Africa is mainly limited to cars - car manufacturers refusing to provide independent repair workshops with information / parts needed to repair vehicles - people must rather use the (more expensive) manufacturers repair service instead.

In places like America manufacturers can not only obstruct repairs by third parties but they can also sue you if you try to repair the product using a third party - or try to do it yourself. They claim the the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protects the software in their product and that repairing it infringes their copyright.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has a great summary article on the concept of why we need a 'right to repair' and Motherboard has a great article on how farmers are at the forefront of the fight for the right to repair in America. More great social implications material here!

Hacking news for the week:

Hacking prevention for the week:

  • Common Craft : a video on how to avoid identity theft - designed to be used for education.
  • CSO Online : a technical look how difficult it is to automate protection against phishing and spear phishing. More for your use than the classroom.

IT Divisions - how they see themselves and others

Good summary of how IT divisions see themselves on Imgur - but if you are worried about 'flipping the bird' or feel that your learners / colleagues / parents easily take offence then don't use it in class.

Your Pacemaker can snitch on you

Even devices that you think couldn't possible reveal details of your life can and do!

A man gets in some kind of financial trouble. Decides on an old but favourite criminal solution to the problem: burn down his house for the insurance money. When the fire is done and dusted, he has an insurance claim for around $400 000 in damages (well over R 4 million). He claims he managed to save some stuff from the fire by putting it in suitcases and chucking it out the window - and then lugging it to safety. Problem is, he has a pacemaker. Police got the data from his pacemaker and it shows no evidence of the strenuous activity involved. That and the fact that firefighters have identified that the fire was started from multiple points outside the house have led to the man being charged with arson and insurance fraud.

Article at Network World.

SHIMMERS: Chip & Pin cards can be skimmed

Now you can worry about your chip and pin cards not being safe in ATM machines and POS card readers. Hackers insert a circuit between the card and the chip reader. This captures the card data before passing it through to the ATM / POS device. The bad guys can then make a duplicate magnetic stripe version of the card.

Article and pictures at Krebs on Security.

Robots VS immigration / Globalisation

Trump says American workers are losing jobs to immigrants and globalisation (sending jobs to other countries where labour is cheaper). He has forgotten about (or simply doesn't know about) the real reason for job losses: robots and automation. CNN Money has a great article and video on the topic. The video is a perfect resource for the 'social implications of IT'.

Fake news corner

This dog seen at the protests against Trump's 'Muslim Ban' says it all:

Comments

Phishing and Whaling

We all take a lot of time and effort to teach our learners about Phishing - and about the more specialised, targeted "Spear Phishing" version of this type of attack. Well, it's time we added "Whaling" to that repertoire.

The term 'Whale' is often used in IT - and in business in general. A 'Whale' is generally a big spending customer - for example in all those 'free' games that you find available on mobile devices you are able to buy 'coins' or 'stars' or 'points' or something that will make it easier to progress through the game faster. Most people do not spend real money on these in game currencies - but there is a select group of users that do buy them - and they buy large. They are usually called 'Whales' - and they are where these companies make their money. Before science was sufficiently advanced whales were simply regarded as another type of fish - the biggest fish in the sea. So they are the biggest Phish for Phishers to focus their attention on as well. In the world of cybercrime a whale is typically a high level business person (CEO, COO, CFO, CTO = 'C' level executive, someone with 'Chief' in their title), politicians or celebrities.

The Whale phisher typically sends an urgent e-mail from a trusted colleague / business partner requesting urgent payment for some critical aspect of the business. The CEO then gives the order that payment be made, short-circuiting the usual paperwork... The phisher scores big. In May this year an Austrian aircraft company lost nearly € 41 Million (more than R 645 000 000) to a Whaling attack. The CEO and CFO lost their jobs. Read about it here.

MyBroadband.co.za has a story on Whaling and some tips from the FBI about how to avoid such attacks, whilst Social-Engineer.com asks 'Why go after minnows when you can catch a Big Phish?'. Finally CSOonline.com has got some examples of scams that CEOs could fall for (especially the spoofed 'from' addresses that rely on similar looking mis-spellings to seem as if they are from a valid source) - if you can stand their irritating multi-page slideshow format.

Fighting back against RansomWare

A great resource for learning about, identifying and fighting Ransomware is nomoreransom.org. They even have tools that will decrypt certain types of Ransomware attacks. A great resource for teaching about this type of malware.

Watch out for that cheap wireless keyboard

You better watch out, you better beware, Keysniffer is already in town.

Armed with a bit of smarts and a wireless dongle that costs less than R200 a hacker can not only intercept whatever you type on your keyboard (without even having to install key logging malware on your computer) from up to 70 m away, but they can also insert their own keystrokes to change whatever you are typing.

How is this possible? Well, makers of cheap wireless keyboards (those that use their own wi-fi dongle instead of Bluetooth) let the communication between the keyboard and the computer take place without encryption (or with poor encryption). Why? Because its cheaper and cheaper = lower price or more profits or both. Wired magazine has the lowdown on this new hacking exploit.

There is no such thing as anonymity or privacy on the web

Keep on telling your learners this fact. Repeat it until they think you are a stuck record. For those that say that they are savvy and have the skillz and the toolz to keep private - point out to them that the TOR browser and account they are using is probably compromised. Researchers recently found over 100 TOR nodes that were spying on their users... Tell them to read the article at The Hacker News. Then point out that the web is a large, wild, ungoverned place which is about as tough and secure as a bag made of wet toilet paper. They need to always assume that most of what you do, create, store, collect, download electronically is traceable and watchable and has probably been intercepted by someone somewhere.

A general Resource for all

The World Digital Library is a resource created by the US Library of Congress with support from UNESCO. It contains many digitised images, texts and maps that are interesting to browse through but could also be valuable resources for the History / Geography teachers at your school.

Building at 225 bricks per hour

3DPrint.com has an article about an Australian company which has created a robot that can lay 225 bricks in an hour - as much as a human does in half a day. Basically a truck loaded with bricks arrives at the building site, extends a robotic arm and starts laying the bricks according to the design programmed into it from a CAD model. There's a time lapse video of the robot at work near the end of the article.

That's it for this week.

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