Month: November 2010

Google Car!!

Internet giant Google will soon launch a car that can drive by itself.

 

Google engineers have tested a “self-driving” car on the streets of California and covered 140,000 miles on the road, BBC reported.

The cars use video cameras mounted on the roof, radar sensors and a laser range finder to look out for traffic, software engineer Sebastian Thrun said.

There is, however, a trained driver in stand-by mode, ready to take control.

Thrun, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University, said safety was the “first priority” in the project.

Routes are pre-planned, mapped first by real drivers, and local police are briefed in advance, he said.

He pointed to figures from the World Health Organisation that over 1.2 million people were killed each year on the roads, and said that number could be reduced.

“We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half.”

“It (the project) provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting,” he said.

 

Wi-fi in homes can be hacked in five seconds

Wireless internet networks in millions of homes can be hacked in less than five seconds.

The wi-fi hacking means criminals can spy on the activities of families, perhaps stealing their identity and banking details to raid their accounts, says a new study.

The hackers could also use the wi-fi access to tap into illegal pornography or upload and download stolen music and movies without being traced.

An ‘ethical hacking’ experiment in six cities, using freely available software, found almost 40,000 home wi-fi networks at high risk, reports the Daily Mail.

Separately, there are concerns about the security of those who use free wi-fi networks offered by coffee shops and other businesses.

The study, commissioned by card protection and insurance firm CPP, highlights a cavalier attitude to keeping data safe.

According to the findings, nearly a quarter of private wireless networks have no password attached, making them accessible to criminals.

CPP fraud expert Michael Lynch said: ‘We urge all wi-fi users to remember that any information they volunteer through public networks can easily be visible to hackers.”

 

Threats of cyber-war, as viruses get smarter

The debate over Iran’s nuclear programme heated up over the summer, with advocates for a military strike against Tehran at loggerheads with analysts calling for a diplomatic resolution. Unknown to many of them at the time, a computer virus, likely written by a government, was moving quickly around the globe, infecting specific computer systems at nuclear plants.

 

“An electronic war has been launched against Iran,” Mahmoud Liaii, a top official in Tehran, was quoted as saying in September, after the country confirmed the worm infected its systems.

By the time he reacted, a technology firm in Bulgaria had already exposed the existence of what became known as the Stuxnet virus and Siemens, the German company which made the targeted systems, was working on a fix.

Experts believe the virus was likely around since 2009, sliding under firewalls undetected.

Stuxnet alerted the world yet again to a recurring problem which was brought to the international forefront in 2000, when a virus with the enticing message, “I love you”, caused billions of dollars in damage around the world.

Two Philippine students, using equipment worth less than $1,000, were behind that attack and were later set free after authorities realised they had violated no law.

Since then, viruses have become subtler, faster, more aggressive and harder to trace, while the nascent rulebook is still weak.

“We are not looking at threats in a traditional sense. It is not business as usual,” said Alex Ntoko, who heads up the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Corporate Strategy Division. “Any individual who can write code is a potential superpower.”

Consultants suggest that even the technological heavyweights have been lax in the cyber world.

Israel only recently began to limit its soldiers’ access to the web when they were on military computers – years after the first top-secret documents accidentally entered public online domain.

Earlier this year, Noah Shachtman, writing for the Progressive Policy Institute, noted that the Pentagon was looking to ban access from its computers to social media sites, seeing no other way to ensure confidentiality, even as it kept secret data flowing through unencrypted networks.

The US and Israel are the prime suspects in the Stuxnet virus. But they are not the only countries believed to be engaging in dirty programming wars.

China ran afoul of the US and its private sector behemoths, including Google, on various occasions in the last eight years, accused of numerous hacks. North Korea has been charged with trying to overload or disrupt Western networks.

And the Georgian parliament’s website was embarrassingly hacked in 2008, during the country’s brief and disastrous war with Russia.

“In Georgia, we saw a case that might have been an example of cyber war, but only because it occurred at time of declared war. But Georgia never followed it up as such,” said Eneken Tikk, the legal adviser to the CCD COE, a cyber research unit accredited to NATO.

For now, though, cyber war and its legalities remain theoretical.

In 1863, modern warfare established its first rules. Over the years, new technologies were used on the battlefields and the agreements morphed into the generally accepted laws of war laid out in the Geneva Convention.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes the rules were created by open-minded people.

“International humanitarian law applies to any new technology. It doesn’t matter that the technology was not dreamed of by the founders,” says Robin Geiss with the ICRC’s legal team.

Geiss recently attended the Bruges Colloquium in Belgium, where military specialists, lawyers and tech gurus gathered to discuss legislation on cyber-warfare, the military use of outer space, drones and automated weapons systems.

“We traditionally dealt with kinetic violence, meaning that we saw the damage right away. With cyber, it is more clandestine and may not be immediately visible,” he explained.

But the rules of attack still apply. Which means the launcher of a virus must differentiate between civilian and military targets. Failure to do so could be tantamount to a war crime.

A cyber attack “is not just about inflicting harm on a computer but harm on critical infrastructure”, said Ntoko at the ITU. Power grids, water networks, railway tracks are all online in some form.

Last month, in the first ever public appearance by a head of the British secret services, Sir John Sawyer laid out his outlook.

“It’s more than obvious that the dangers of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyber attack are not much impressed by international borders,” Sawyer said.

Ntoko believes this borderless threat requires a UN brokered treaty to regulate the networks.

However, extreme differences still remain between major powers.

For example, officials in Washington have seen Moscow’s proposals for an international treaty as efforts to ensure control rests in the hands of governments, placing restraints on the internet.

“The discipline is too immature to push for international consensus,” said Tikki, the lawyer.

In the meantime, rights groups in the West are worried about privacy. US officials have admitted that the top-secret National Security Agency was “over-collecting” information on citizens.

The balance for security, liberty and humanitarian checkpoints in the cyber world is not easily reached, experts warn.

The people at the Red Cross hope at least safeguards can be put in place before hostilities rage, to ensure protection for the weakest: civilians who suffer first and harshest in any war.

 

Face recognition may replace passwords in mobile phones

A new software that can track your facial features in real time is likely to replace passwords and PIN numbers when you log into internet sites from a mobile phone.

 

Eventually, it will be able to tell who the user is, where they are looking and even how they are feeling.

Face verification is already used in laptops, webcams and the Xbox 360 Kinect but this is the first time the technology is being used with such sophistication in mobile devices such as smartphones.

“Existing mobile face trackers give only an approximate position and scale of the face,” said Phil Tresadern from the University of Manchester, Britain, who led the project, the Daily Mail reported.

“Our model runs in real time and accurately tracks a number of landmarks on and around the face such as the eyes, nose, mouth and jaw line,” he said.

“A mobile phone with a camera on the front captures a video of your face and tracks 22 facial features.”

This can make face recognition more accurate, and has great potential for novel ways of interacting with a mobile phone, Tresadern said.

“At this stage, we’re particularly interested in demonstrating uses for the face-tracking part of the technology,” he said. “It is very fast and I can’t find anything that can rival it on a mobile phone.”

The new software, built on 20 years of research at the university, has been demonstrated on a Nokia N900 for the EU-funded “Mobile Biometrics” (MoBio) project.

‘Wireless’ humans could backbone new mobile networks

People could form the backbone of powerful new mobile internet networks by carrying wearable sensors.

 

The sensors could create new ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures and reduce the density of mobile phone base stations.

Engineers from Queen’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology are working on a new project based on the rapidly developing science of body-centric communications.

Social benefits could include vast improvements in mobile gaming and remote healthcare, along with new precision monitoring of athletes and real-time tactical training in team sports, an institute release said.

The researchers are investigating how small sensors carried by members of the public, in items such as next generation smartphones, could communicate with each other to create potentially vast body-to-body networks.

The new sensors would interact to transmit data, providing ‘anytime, anywhere’ mobile network connectivity.

Simon Cotton from the institute’s wireless communications research group said: “In the past few years, a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennae and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body.”

“Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication – how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location,” he added.

“The availability of body-to-body networks could bring great social benefits, including significant healthcare improvements through the use of body-worn sensors for the widespread, routine monitoring and treatment of illness away from medical centres,” Cotton said.

If the idea takes off, body-to-body networks could also lead to a reduction in the number of base stations needed to service mobile phone users, particularly in areas of high population density, he added.

 

Google bans phone application used in spying

A controversial mobile phone application, which helps a cell phone user read the text messages of others secretly, has been removed from sale by internet search engine Google.

 

Google said the application, called SMS Secret Replicator, violated its terms, The Independent reported Friday.

Once installed on a mobile phone, the Android phone application automatically creates carbon copies of incoming text messages and forwards them to a selected number – prompting fears it could be used by jealous lovers and even work colleagues to snoop on private messages.

Jealous lovers are encouraged to secretly set up a password-protected application on their partners’ phones and set it to forward text messages to their own, the paper said.

“The app is unique because there is no visible icon or shortcut to access it, so once it’s installed, it will continue to monitor without revealing itself,” the developer DLP Mobile was quoted as saying.

Its chief executive, Zak Tanjeloff, said the application was “certainly controversial but can be helpful to people in relationships where this type of monitoring can be useful”.

The app’s creators have given it the slogan “nothing is secret”. Google confirmed it had suspended the application.

Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak may become a reality

A new material designed by British scientists could help create a real-life Harry Potter-style ‘invisibility cloak’.

The material, called “Metaflex” may in future provide a way of manufacturing fabrics that manipulate light.

Metamaterials have already been developed that bend and channel light to render objects invisible at longer wavelengths, says the New Journal of Physics.

Visible light poses a greater challenge because its short wavelength means the metamaterial atoms have to be very small, reports the Daily Mail.

So far such small light-bending atoms have only been produced on flat, hard surfaces unsuitable for use in clothing.

But scientists at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, believe they have overcome this problem.

They have produced flexible metamaterial “membranes” using a new technique that frees the meta-atoms from the hard surface they are constructed on.

Metaflex can operate at wavelengths of around 620 nanometres, within the visible light region.

Stacking the membranes together could produce a flexible ’smart fabric’ that may provide the basis of an invisibility cloak, the scientists believe.

Other applications could include superlenses that are far more efficient than conventional lenses.

Andrea Di Falco, who led the study at the university, said: “Metamaterials give us the ultimate handle on manipulating the behaviour of light.”