Tag: Tech

You Could Be Mining This Cryptocurrency Without Knowing It

Zcash is a new virtual currency that claims to be more anonymous than bitcoin, and has garnered interest from academics, investors, and criminals.

Perhaps thanks to the latter group, hackers are allegedly installing malware on unsuspecting users’ computers that forces them to mine Zcash for the hackers’ own profit.

The malware is distributed via links for things like pirated software, according to a blog posted on Monday by Kaspersky Lab security researcher Aleks Gostev.

Once installed, it forces a person’s computer to mine Zcash—basically solving math problems for a reward in the currency—and funnels the funds back to the attacker.




According to Gostev, around 1,000 possibly infected computers have been identified. This many zombie computers mining Zcash could generate as much as $75,000 a year in income, Gostev wrote.

Downloading mining software to a PC doesn’t necessarily have severe consequences for a user’s data,” Gostev wrote me in an email.

However, it does have the effect of increasing the energy consumption level of their machine, which results in more expensive electricity bills.”

Another consequence is a heavy load on the PC’s RAM, because mining software consumes up to 90% of available memory,” he continued, “which leads to a significant performance slowdown.

According to Zooko Wilcox, founder and CEO of Zcash, the most users can do at this point is protect themselves.

Unfortunately, we have no way to prevent this kind of thing, since Zcash is an open source network, like Bitcoin, that nobody (including us) controls,” Wilcox wrote me in an email.

Our recommendation to security companies that detect this kind of activity, like Kaspersky, is that their software should alert users when potentially malicious software is detected, and give the user the option of shutting it down or, if it was deliberately installed by the user, allowing it to run.

This sort of thing isn’t unique in the world of virtual currencies. Bitcoin, for its part, has seen a number of botnet mining pools over the past several years.

Even some bitcoin alternatives, like Dogecoin, have been fertile grounds for similar attacks.

Botnet mining on these currencies has mostly died out because they were designed so that mining difficulty increases over time and the rewards continually diminish.

In this situation, even an army of regular PCs can’t compete with the specialized hardware employed by big-business miners, known as ASICs.

Wilcox contended in an email that it’s incorrect to describe non-consensual Zcash mining as a “botnet,” writing, “A botnet is where you have a controller that can deploy software automatically to a large number of compromised machines.

The potential difference for Zcash, however, is that the currency is touted by its creators as being resistant to the use of ASICs, making mining with plebeian hardware a profitable approach over the long-term.

Zcash could theoretically be mined on a smartphone.

This may make Zcash mining less resource-intensive and thus more decentralized, but, somewhat ironically, it may also have the unintended side effect of making botnet mining with malware a consistently attractive option, despite diminishing returns.

However, according to Marco Krohn, chief financial officer at cryptocurrency mining firm Genesis Mining, the current state of botnet mining on Zcash as described by Kaspersky’s Gostev isn’t of much concern.

Only if a botnet manages to infect 250,000 computers, exceeding 10 percent of the whole network’s mining power, Krohn said, would miners see any effects.

But while bigger electricity bills aren’t a problem for professional miners, the average person might not appreciate the financial strain.

According to Gostev, users should check their security software to make sure blocks legitimate software from being used for malicious purposes, which might be disabled by default.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Microsoft’s Cortana Falls Behind Alexa And Google Assistant at Consumer Electronics Show

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is always a good opportunity to get an early look at devices coming throughout the year.

It’s also a reasonable gauge on the health of an ecosystem, or emerging platforms. At this year’s CES it was all about Alexa vs. Google Assistant.

If you were hoping to see more Cortana-powered devices, they were nowhere to be found. With the exception of the Cortana-powered thermostat (announced last year), no new Cortana devices were unveiled at CES this year.

In comparison, Alexa is arriving on headphones, smartwatches, cars, and many more TVs this year, and will even be able to directly control ovens and microwaves.




Google introduced a new Smart Display platform with its Assistant, and Google Assistant is also coming to more TVs, headphones, and even Android Auto.

Google made it clear it was ready to fight Alexa, but Microsoft stayed silent.

Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant has been largely limited to Windows 10 PCs, after originally launching on Windows Phones back in 2014.

Microsoft may have missed the hardware scenario for a dedicated Cortana device, but the company has invested in pushing Cortana on Windows 10.

Despite a claim of 141 million monthly Cortana users, Amazon looks set to even challenge Microsoft in this area.

HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer all plan on integrating an Alexa app on upcoming Windows 10 machines this year, providing a challenge to Cortana on the desktop.

Microsoft has been convincing PC makers to integrate far-field microphones in their devices, and now Amazon is tempting them to use that hardware for Alexa.

Microsoft has previously shown how Cortana can work in speakers, cars, fridges, toasters, and thermostats, but we’ve only seen one dedicated Cortana speaker so far and a single thermostat.

With a lack of hardware supporting Cortana, Microsoft is instead promising that more will come in time.

In fact, Microsoft says it’s playing the long game with Cortana, something it also unsuccessfully attempted with Windows Phone.

It’s a long journey to making a real assistant that you can communicate with over a longer period of time to really be approachable and interesting and better than the alternative,” explains Andrew Shuman, corporate vice president of Cortana engineering, in an interview with GeekWire.

“That is our journey, to make some make some great experiences that shine through, and recognize that long haul.”

Microsoft has announced new partnerships with Ecobee, Geeni, Honeywell, IFTTT, LIFX, and TP-Link, but we now need to see the hardware evidence of Microsoft’s long haul.

While Alexa and Google Assistant appear on more and more devices, Cortana is being left behind. Microsoft’s Cortana isn’t the only digital assistant being left behind, though.

Apple’s Siri, which debuted long before Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant, has remained firmly on the company’s iPhone devices.

Apple has been pushing its HomeKit platform instead of Siri, but there are signs this isn’t working for Apple’s ecosystem.

As analyst Ben Bajarin points out, Apple usually has an indirect presence at CES, but this year it was Alexa and Google Assistant dominating the platform wars.

Apple delayed its HomePod speaker to “early 2018,” and we’re waiting to see if the company will ever create a Siri platform outside of its own devices.

While HomeKit has broad support for smart home devices, it’s clear that millions of people are using voice-activated smart speakers to control smart home devices, music playback, and access online information like weather forecasts.

It’s a segment that’s growing, and both Apple and Microsoft are both far behind the competition.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Ocado’s Collaborative Robot Is Getting Closer To Factory Work

Retailer Ocado is getting closer to creating an autonomous humanoid robot that can help engineers fix mechanical faults in its factories.

The firm’s latest robot, ARMAR-6, has a human-looking torso, arms with eight degrees of freedom, hands that can grip and a head with cameras inside. But it doesn’t have legs and is equipped with a large wheeled base that lets it move around.

To this end, ARMAR-6 uses a three camera systems inside its head to help it detect and recognize humans and objects; speech recognition helps it understand commands; and its hands are able to pick-up and grasp objects.




At present, the robot is still a prototype but getting to this point has taken two and a half years. Four European universities have been working to create each of the systems, under the EU’s Horizon2020 project.

The retailer has already automated large parts of its warehouse operation. Its 90,000-square-metre Dordon warehouse, near Birmingham, has 8,000 crates moving around it at any one time, across 35 kilometers of conveyor belts.

However, components can break and require maintenance. This is where future versions of the ARMAR-6 robot will come in.

Other training tasks that have been worked on include getting it to find a spray bottle, pick it up, and then handing it across to a human.

 

At the moment, this is a prescribed sequence,” Deacon says. “But the ultimate aim is for the robot to be able to recognize where in a maintenance task the technician is and understand from its behavioral repertoire what will be a good thing for it to do in order to assist the technician.”

Ocado’s humanoid project runs under the banner of Secondhands and involves engineers and computer scientists from EPFL, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Sapienza Università di Roma, and University College London.

Each university has developed individual elements of the ARMAR-6 system.

The firm first laid out the ambitious plans for the collaborative robot in 2015. Since then, it has worked on a number of robotics projects.

Most recently, it revealed its robotic arm that can pick-up items using suction. It’s planned the gripper will be used in the company’s factories to lift and place thousands of different items into the shopping of its customers.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How To Teach Your Kids To Use Social Media Responsibly

While parents understand that they need to play an active role in keeping their child safe online, most feel ill-prepared and unsure that they are parenting properly around social media.

As rule of thumb, it’s best to start when your kids are young — basically as soon as they start playing around with your computer and/or phone.

As with other complicated subjects, like (gulp) sex, the topic of using social media responsibly should be an ongoing conversation as you ride alongside them on their digital journey.




Be a role model

Your child’s relationship with social media will be shaped by how they see you interacting with your devices.

The amount of time you’re spending on your phone, whether it’s scrolling through Facebook, snapping pics, posting Instagram updates, and texting is teaching your child what digital engagement looks like.

Are you over-consuming? Distracted? Being mentally and/or emotionally affected by what you see or do online?

Show your child how a responsible adult manages their time and uses self-discipline with your online engagement.

Understand privacy

Privacy is one of the most difficult concepts for children to grasp. Explain that privacy is not just a setting choice of either “friend” or “public.”

It’s also about leaving digital bread crumbs on porn sites, giving your email address to get free Wi-Fi, having your GPS locator on, and much more.

We are not always sure what will happen with our digital footprint and so it’s best to have parents be in charge of giving permission for behaviors that give any information to a third party.

Trust no one on the other end of the phone and computer

It’s no surprise to hear that peer relationships rule the lives of our children, but what may be new information for parents is that one way youth show proof of their friendship is by agreeing to trust one another.

For example, a boyfriend asks their girlfriend to send a picture of her breasts and says, “You can trust me.  I will delete it right away,” or one may ask, “What’s your password? Trust me, I won’t tell anyone.”

These forms of showing trust end can badly. Relationships end and revenge photos circulate, or accounts get hacked.

Explain to your kids that you can be close friends without breaking the family rules.

Let them know it’s OK for them to say, “I can’t — my parents check all this stuff and I don’t want them to take away my phone privileges.

Jokes can come at a cost

“I was just joking” or “I didn’t mean anything by it” are common childhood phrases, but on social media, when everything you say is amplified and/or can go viral, jokes and humor need to be used judiciously.

Unless we explain explicitly to our children and teens how comments and jokes can be hurtful, they may get into trouble unwittingly.

Teaching them to stop, pause, and imagine how they would feel if they were the brunt of the joke helps teach the important characteristics of empathy and compassion.

If the conversation is getting upsetting and emotional, switch to talking IRL to avoid misunderstandings. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Finally, as with all parenting, be consistent and follow through with consequences if rules are broken.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

This Is NASA’s Plan For Humanity’s Return To The Moon, And Beyond

There is still no official NASA mission to Mars, but after years of uncertainty, America’s space agency is giving us a glimpse of its grand strategy to extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit with a plan to build a solid technological foundation for sending astronauts to other worlds.

The decades-long space exploration schedule, detailed in a press conference last week with NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, lists 10 upcoming missions involving NASA’s new-generation Orion spacecraft.

But unlike earlier disjointed proposals for loosely defined missions, this new plan is laid out more like an Ikea manual—a step-by-step guide on how to get to Mars.




NASA says the enterprise relies on a substantial but not outrageous budget, and that the plan has been drafted in close coordination with NASA’s key partners like the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The main goal of the Orion program is to assemble a Moon-orbiting space station, which by the end of the 2020s could be beefed up to become a kind of interplanetary mothership.

Without additional money, the proposed spacecraft will not be able to put astronauts onto the surface of Mars, but it will be able to carry a crew into the vicinity of the Red Planet as early as 2033, says Gerstenmaier.

Visits to Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and expeditions to asteroids might also be possible.

In a nutshell, this is the closest humanity’s ever been to setting foot on Mars and many other destinations in the Solar System.

The program will certainly be the boldest, riskiest, and most ambitious undertaking for human spaceflight in nearly half a century—since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

Now for a gut punch of reality. Due to budget constraints, the Mars program likely move at a snail’s pace, according to available flight manifests.

That means its unlikely astronauts will have a chance to leave new footprints on another world before well into the 2030s.

An even longer wait is a bitter pill to swallow, and that probably explains why NASA has been shy about publicizing its mega-plan right away.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the Apollo program’s 10-year plan for putting a man on the moon to the Orion project, which has been in planning and development since 2003 and is not even expected to carry its first crew until 2021.

The first manned flight of Orion, called Exploration Mission 2 or EM-2 was recently “de-ambitioned” from entering a lunar orbit to just running a quick loop behind the Moon and returning to Earth eight days after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

In the meantime, NASA’s international partners will have an opportunity to dispatch robotic and, possibly, even human missions to the surface of the Moon.

With the nascent outpost growing in the vicinity of the Moon, the Orion crews could extend their stays in lunar orbit from a week to months or even a year.

Inhabitants of the outpost could also make outings to other locations near the Moon, such as a visit to a scientifically interesting Lagrangian points, where gravitational forces of the Moon and the Earth cancel each other out.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Inside The Weird World Of Quantum Computers

In a world where we are relying increasingly on computing, to share our information and store our most precious data, the idea of living without computers might baffle most people.

But if we continue to follow the trend that has been in place since computers were introduced, by 2040 we will not have the capability to power all of the machines around the globe, according to a recent report by the Semiconductor Industry Association.




What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time.

Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers.

In classical computing, a bit is a single piece of information that can exist in two states – 1 or 0. Quantum computing uses quantum bits, or ‘qubits’ instead.

These are quantum systems with two states. However, unlike a usual bit, they can store much more information than just 1 or 0, because they can exist in any superposition of these values.

A qubit can be thought of like an imaginary sphere. Whereas a classical bit can be in two states – at either of the two poles of the sphere – a qubit can be any point on the sphere.

This means a computer using these bits can store a huge amount more information using less energy than a classical computer.

Last year, a team of Google and NASA scientists found a D-wave quantum computer was 100 million times faster than a conventional computer.

But moving quantum computing to an industrial scale is difficult.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Smith & Nephew Launches Digital Scanner To Diagnose If A Wound Is Infected

FTSE 100 medical products firm Smith & Nephew has launched a digital scanner that enables nurses to make an on-the-spot diagnosis as to whether a wound is infected.

The handheld device, called MolecuLight, instantly determines whether harmful bacteria are present in a wound.

Currently nurses have to send a swab off to a lab for analysis, causing delay in treatment.

In clinical trials Smith & Nephew found using the scanner led to 54pc more accurate diagnoses and wounds healing up to nine times faster.

Smith & Nephew hopes sales of the device will boost its wound care division, which accounts for around a quarter of its $4.7bn (£3.5bn) annual revenues.




The firm came under pressure last month to improve performance after it emerged activist investor Elliott Advisors had built up a stake and was pushing for the company to be broken up.

Smith & Nephew believes the MolecuLight product will make inroads in the treatment of chronic wounds, which impact an estimated two million people across Europe.

Around 16pc of all chronic wounds remain unresolved after a year or longer.

Smith & Nephew has launched the product in Europe this month and hopes to attract customers including NHS hospitals.

Smith & Nephew struck a worldwide distribution agreement with the scanner’s manufacturer, also called MolecuLight, last May this year

The product already had a CE mark, paving the way for this month’s European launch.

Paolo Di Vicenzo, a senior vice president at Smith & Nephew, said: “We believe this product will start a revolution in wound care clinical practice.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Facebook Is Developing A Harry Potter-Style System That Makes Your Profile Pictures Smile And Wink

Facebook is developing new ‘reactive profile pictures‘ that pull faces like the cheeky portraits at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.

The new feature will make your photo smile and wink in response to likes and comments on your page.

The tool can take a single image of a face and animate it with happy, sad or angry expressions by mapping it to the movement of real people’s faces.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, Israel, developed the software, called ‘bringing portraits to life‘, alongside Facebook.




While the effect looks slightly bizarre, a study found half of people who saw the animations were tricked into thinking they were real.

The system is improving all the time, the researchers said. “I think eventually they will be completely indistinguishable from real videos,” lead researcher Hadar Averbuch-Elor said.

The tool creates animations using a ‘base‘ video of a completely different person. The ‘model‘ does not have to be the same gender or look anything like the person in the profile photo.

The expression the model makes is mapped directly onto the eyes, mouth, cheeks and other parts of the profile photo’s face so that it looks like animated movement.

But the animations aren’t perfect – when people smile their mouth often goes from tight-lipped to a toothy grin.

But from a single image the software doesn’t know what the subject’s teeth look like.

It therefore has to map the pearly whites of the base video onto the profile photo to match up the expressions.

We found that if we change the teeth people don’t notice too much,” Ms Averbuch-Elor, who is a PhD student at the university, said.

In a set of videos about the new feature, the tam showcased several ways Facebook could use the moving pictures in future.

Ahead of the project’s Facebook collaboration, in future the tool could be linked with AI language processing when you are messaging someone.

This means that, rather than a static image, your recipient will see an animated version of the person reacting to what’s being said.

The software will be presented at the Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Bangkok, Thailand later this month.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

What Can You Actually Do With Your Fancy Gene-Editing Technology?

The unthinkable has become conceivable,” said David Baltimore from the California Institute of Technology, at a historic summit on human gene editing currently taking place in Washington, D.C.

We are close to altering human heredity and we need to decide how we as a society are going to use this capability.

The summit—a three-day event organized by August scientific institutions from three countries—offers a chance for scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and interested members of the public to “consider the scientific and societal implications of genome editing” at a time when it has never been easier or more powerful.




It’s a spiritual successor to a similar conference at Asilomar, California, in 1975, when delegates debated the ethics of nascent genetic-engineering technology.

Baltimore was involved in both meetings, and he says that things are very different now.

The difference lies in a suite of new tools for changing a person’s DNA, especially the much-hyped CRISPR-Cas9 system, which allows scientists to easily delete, tweak, or insert genes.

With this power at hand, old questions about playing God, making designer babies, and ushering in dystopian Brave New Worlds of genetic haves and have-nots, take on fresh urgency.

These same leitmotifs are trotted out with every new wave of genetic technology—IVF, cloning, stem-cell therapies, mitochondrial-replacement therapy—but some say they are more pertinent than ever.

In the past, it’s been simple for scientists to dismiss these possibilities,” said Robin Lovell-Badge from The Francis Crick Institute. “But we’re rapidly getting to the point where we can no longer deny them.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Elon Musk Unveils Tesla Electric Truck – And A Surprise New Sports Car

Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s first electric semi-truck on Thursday evening at an event in Los Angeles that also included the surprise reveal of a new Tesla sports car.

The new Roadster, which has the same name as the first electric vehicle produced by Tesla from 2008 to 2012, emerged from the back of one of the trucks at the end of a presentation that focused largely on the economic and performance needs of truck drivers.

The point of doing this is just to give a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars,” Musk said. “Driving a gasoline sports car is going to feel like a steam engine with a side of quiche.”




While the sports car provided a jolt of excitement for Tesla enthusiasts, much of the event focused on pitching the truck to truck drivers – customers with very different concerns than the average Tesla owner.

In typical Musk style, the CEO had hyped the truck on Twitter throughout the week.

On Sunday, he promised that it “will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension”, while on Wednesday he teased that the truck “can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte”.

There was no espresso machine to be seen, but Musk did promise a laundry list of features that he claimed would ensure the overall cost of ownership will be 20% less per mile compared with diesel trucks.

Among them: faster acceleration, better uphill performance, a 500-mile (805km) range at maximum weight at highway speed, and “thermonuclear explosion-proof glass” in the windshield.

Safety features include enhanced autopilot, lane-keeping technology, and a design that makes jackknifing “impossible”, Musk said.

Musk claimed it would be “economic suicide” to continue using diesel trucks, saying the Tesla version, if driven in convoy, would be cheaper than shipping goods by rail.

The CEO’s promises for the new Roadster were no less ambitious. Musk said the car’s acceleration from 0 to 60 mph and 0 to 100 mph, as well as its quarter-mile speed, were all “world records” for production cars.

He said production on the trucks would begin in 2019 and the sports cars would be available in 2020.

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Pass it on: Popular Science