The STEM Report (Feb 2018)

 

 

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The Best Explanation for Everything in the Universe

A diagram in which "M theory" is surrounded by types of string theory
It’s not easy being a “theory of everything.” A TOE has the very tough job of fitting gravity into the quantum laws of nature in such a way that, on large scales, gravity looks like curves in the fabric of space-time, as Albert Einstein described in his general theory of relativity. Somehow, space-time curvature emerges as the collective effect of quantized units of gravitational energy—particles known as gravitons. But naïve attempts to calculate how gravitons interact result in nonsensical infinities, indicating the need for a deeper understanding of gravity.String theory (or, more technically, M-theory) is often described as the leading candidate for the theory of everything in our universe. But there’s no empirical evidence for it, or for any alternative ideas about how gravity might unify with the rest of the fundamental forces. Why, then, is string/M-theory given the edge over the others?The theory famously posits that gravitons, as well as electrons, photons, and everything else, are not point particles but rather imperceptibly tiny ribbons of energy, or “strings,” that vibrate in different ways. Interest in string theory soared in the mid-1980s, when physicists realized that it gave mathematically consistent descriptions of quantized gravity. But the five known versions of string theory were all “perturbative,” meaning they broke down in some regimes. Theorists could calculate what happens when two graviton strings collide at high energies, but not when there’s a confluence of gravitons extreme enough to form a black hole.Then, in 1995, the physicist Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string theories fit together into a coherent non-perturbative theory, which he dubbed M-theory. M-theory looks like each of the string theories in different physical contexts but does not itself have limits on its regime of validity—a major requirement for the theory of everything. Or so Witten’s calculations suggested. “Witten could make these arguments without writing down the equations of M-theory, which is impressive but left many questions unanswered,” explained David Simmons-Duffin, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology.
Another research explosion ensued two years later, when the physicist Juan Maldacena discovered the AdS/CFT correspondence: a hologram-like relationship connecting gravity in a space-time region called anti–de Sitter (AdS) space to a quantum description of particles (called a “conformal field theory”) moving around on that region’s boundary. AdS/CFT gives a complete definition of M-theory for the special case of AdS space-time geometries, which are infused with negative energy that makes them bend in a different way than our universe does. For such imaginary worlds, physicists can describe processes at all energies, including, in principle, black-hole formation and evaporation. The 16,000 papers that have cited Maldacena’s over the past 20 years mostly aim at carrying out these calculations in order to gain a better understanding of AdS/CFT and quantum gravity.This basic sequence of events has led most experts to consider M-theory the leading TOE candidate, even as its exact definition in a universe like ours remains unknown. Whether the theory is correct is an altogether separate question. The strings it posits—as well as extra, curled-up spatial dimensions that these strings supposedly wiggle around in—are 10 million billion times smaller than experiments like the Large Hadron Collider can resolve. And some macroscopic signatures of the theory that might have been seen, such as cosmic strings and supersymmetry, have not shown up.Other TOE ideas, meanwhile, are seen as having a variety of technical problems, and none have yet repeated string theory’s demonstrations of mathematical consistency, such as the graviton-graviton scattering calculation. (According to Simmons-Duffin, none of the competitors have managed to complete the first step, or first “quantum correction,” of this calculation.) One philosopher has even argued that string theory’s status as the only known consistent theory counts as evidence that the theory is correct.The distant competitors include asymptotically safe gravity, E8 theory, noncommutative geometry, and causal fermion systems. Asymptotically safe gravity, for instance, suggests that the strength of gravity might change as you go to smaller scales in such a way as to cure the infinity-plagued calculations. But no one has yet gotten the trick to work.

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11 Amazing Examples of Disruptive Technology

Virtual reality example of disruptive technology

The pace of innovation is incredibly fast with new things being discovered daily. Here are eleven examples of the most disruptive technologies at the time of writing:

1. Internet of Things (IoT):

How the internet of things will create a smart world infographic

This refers to identifiable objects and virtual representations in the internet. Equipping all objects with machine readable identifiers or minuscule identifying devices could dramatically change lives. Such devices could, therefore, be used in health, mining, manufacturing among others The only danger is that the connections could present high security threats. IoT is certainly an interesting innovation to look into.

2. Artificial Intelligence:

Photo of an artificial intelligence humanoid robot sitting on a desk under develeopment.

This is a special type of intelligence that is exhibited by computers and other machines. It’s a flexible agent that perceives its environment and takes the necessary action required for the success of that particular phenomenon. Artificial intelligence is used when machines copy the cognitive functions of the human brain in learning and solving problems. As machines become increasingly capable, other facilities are removed from the definition. Although this area has a long history, professionals in the field are getting ever closer to achieving artificial intelligence.

3. Space Colonization:

Examples of Space Colonisation

Presently, only a few highly trained and selected astronauts can go to space. But based on the materials available at the time of writing, the human population in space could exceed one trillion people in the 22nd Century. Space colonization is where settlers will occupy gigantic spacecraft or other planets and moons. This human advancement is already in existence with projects such as the International Space Station. NASA has also come up with several space colonization projects such as the National Space Society, and International Space Development Conference where students participate in contents.

In addition, there are many private enterprises such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Stratolaunch Systems working on space-tourism/colonization, which are funded by billionares Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Paul Allen respectively. Space colonization is a good example of disruptive technology where lots of macro disruptive technologies will be invented as a result.

4. 3D Printing:

Good Example of a 3D Printed Car

What would happen if we could create anything including cars simply by printing? Although this is hard to imagine, it is already happening. We could now print settlements, space-stations, furniture, utensils, transportation, clothes, games, food, body-parts, and a long list of other assets through the transfer of a document containing such files. This list also expands to include glass, soybean base, wood filler, icing sugar, Nutella, metal, rubber, wood and even concrete. This technology is already changing many things.

Five year forecast of the 3D printing industry.
Forbes

USA, Europe, and China are the top 3 places with the most 3D printer manufacturers in the world. According to forecasts by Forbes the 3D Printing industry will grow by 133% within three years, from $9b in 2017 to $21b in 2020. In the long-term the commercial activity of transporting goods to customers and the fabrication of products on a large scale using machinery will be disrupted by 3D printing. As an advantage, this will reduce human activities that cause climate change. Furthermore, 3D printing is without a doubt an enabler of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

5. Medical Innovations:

Picture of a woman editing DNA, example of CRISPR technology.

At the time of writing, there are many medical innovations that are in existence and being further trialled. These include vaccines that were not there before, genomic directed clinical trials, gene editing using CRISPR, cell-free fetal DNA testing, cancer screening through protein biomarker analysis, frictionless remote monitoring and more. This is an interesting area to look into, particularly if you are into healthcare.

6. High-Speed Travel:

High-speed travel technology has already taken the first step towards reality with the first test involving the Hyperloop One prototype propulsion system. Elon Musk, founder of the Hyperloop, intends to make this a reality before 2020, and has recently closed an $80 million funding round that includes investment from several other companies. When this emerging technology gets developed and implemented on a mass scale, it will solve many complex long distance issues. High-speed travel could also relieve over-crowded cities by decreasing the need for urbanisation.

7. Robotics:

Robot Prosphetics (Disruptive Technology Examples)

Robotics is another exciting innovation when it comes to disruptive technology. It corresponds with capable robotics or robots that have enhanced dexterity, senses, and intelligence. These robots can perform tasks that were previously thought to be too hard or expensive to automate. Society could benefit a lot when it comes to these technologies. People have already started making use of robotic surgical systems, robotic prosthetics, and nanorobotics to name a few. Robotics certainly deserves its place among the most disruptive technologies of the 21st Century.

8. Blockchain Technology:

Top 20 blockchain books and whitepapers

This is a distributed ledger technology that makes Bitcoin, Stellar (Lumens), Ethereum, and others possible by providing a record of transactions and confirming who has what at any given moment. Its security is assured by the sophisticated cryptographic processes. The immediate impact of blockchain technology may not be clear for the non-technological eye, however it will certainly improve existing systems within society at large. For more information about blockchain technology, read my article Why Blockchain? What Exactly Are the Societal Implications?

9. Autonomous Vehicles:

This technology includes automated cars and drones. It refers to vehicles or drones that could operate and self-drive in many situations using advanced sensors such as LIDAR and other systems of communications from machines. According to an article published in Times Magazine in 2013, some of the new users of these vehicles will be farmers, architects, and even real estate agents. At the time of writing, you could have a personal drone tracking your phone to carry your shopping bags or to keep a camera focused on you.

10. Advanced Virtual Reality:

Blonde female teenager testing Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality already exists on a commercial level. However, it may become even more advanced by being developed to help people enhance their memories or even mental wellbeing. There will be lots of benefits coming from Virtual Reality. Companies such as Void and Virtalis are already helping people experience new dimensions and things without limits.

11. Renewable Energy:

The generation of energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind is certainly disruptive, particularly when compared with traditional energy sources. According to experts, renewable energy will globally minimise climate change and pollution. Renewable energy includes technological inventions such as wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, concentrated solar power, geothermal energy, ocean wave power among others. This is another great example of disruptive technology which will accelerate sustainable development.

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Stop Leaving Your Smartphone’s Bluetooth On
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If you always leave Bluetooth on your phone on, you might want to rethink things.

A vulnerability known as BlueBorne was discovered this week by security research firm Armis. With it, researchers were able to infiltrate Samsung Galaxy Phones and the Google Pixel as well as an LG Sports Watch and a car audio system, all by exploiting the Bluetooth connection.

Other devices are also vulnerable. Specifically, iPhones and iPads that haven’t been upgraded to iOS 10, as well as a number of other Android, Microsoft, and Linux products. A BlueBorne attack reportedly only takes 10 seconds to do and can give a hacker control of your Bluetooth-enabled device, even if it isn’t connected to anything when the attack begins.

Google and Microsoft put out security patches to get rid of the vulnerability this week. If you haven’t updated your phone in the past few days, you should go ahead and do that right now. No really, do it now.

The issue brings up a much bigger problem: you shouldn’t be leaving your Bluetooth on in the first place.

Wired notes that when you leave Bluetooth on, it’s constantly open to and waiting for other devices to connect to. That’s great when you want to sync your Fitbit or listen to some jams on your wireless headphones, but that also means that your device is constantly available for nefarious things to try and connect to it as well. Sure, use it to connect to your headphones or car. But if you’re not using it, you should power the feature off.

The way BlueBorne works, it constantly scans for devices that have Bluetooth on, and when it finds one that has relevant vulnerabilities, it can hack into the device exceptionally quickly. Once connected, hackers can take control of the device and even steal data from it.

The attack can also spread from device to device. So, while attackers would technically need to be in Bluetooth range of your phone (33 feet) to pull something like this off, they can get some extra distance when there are other infected devices around as well.

Even though this specific vulnerability has been patched, it’s only a matter of time before something similar pops up.

The easiest line of defense? Don’t leave your Bluetooth on. Wired compares leaving Bluetooth on to leaving a door to your home unlocked. Yes, it will be easier to get in when you get home if you just don’t lock it, but you’re also making it much easier for robbers to come in and steal everything you have while you’re away.

 

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Websites use your CPU to mine cryptocurrency even when you close your browser

Researchers have discovered a new technique that lets hackers and unscrupulous websites perform in-browser, drive-by cryptomining even after a user has closed the window for the offending site.

Over the past month or two, drive-by cryptomining has emerged as a way to generate the cryptocurrency known as Monero. Hackers harness the electricity and CPU resources of millions of unsuspecting people as they visit hacked or deceitful websites. One researcher recently documented 2,500 sites actively running cryptomining code in visitors’ browsers, a figure that, over time, could generate significant revenue. Until now, however, the covert mining has come with a major disadvantage for the attacker or website operator: the mining stops as soon as the visitor leaves the page or closes the page window.

Now, researchers from anti-malware provider Malwarebytes have identified a technique that allows the leaching to continue even after a user has closed the browser window. It works by opening a pop-under window that fits behind the Microsoft Windows taskbar and hides behind the clock. The window remains open indefinitely until a user takes special actions to close it. During that time, it continues to run code that generates Monero on behalf of the person controlling the Website.

The animated GIF image at the top of this post shows the Windows task bar on the left. On the right is the offending browser window as the user removes it from its hiding place, resizes it, and finally closes it. In a blog post published Wednesday morning, Malwarebytes Lead Malware Intelligence Analyst Jérôme Segura wrote:

This type of pop-under is designed to bypass adblockers and is a lot harder to identify because of how cleverly it hides itself. Closing the browser using the “X” is no longer sufficient. The more technical users will want to run Task Manager to ensure there is no remnant running browser processes and terminate them. Alternatively, the taskbar will still show the browser’s icon with slight highlighting, indicating that it is still running.

The Ad Maven ad network opens the pop-up window and loads a page hosted on elthamely[.]com. The page, in turn, loads resources from the Amazon content delivery network cloudfront.net. The Amazon resources retrieve a payload from yet another domain, hatevery[.]info.

Another way the new technique tries to conceal itself: the code running in the hidden browser window takes special care not to max out the CPU resources of the computer it’s running on. By throttling down the computationally intensive mathematical operations, the persistent mining stands a better chance of not being detected by end users.

Segura said the technique worked on the latest version of Chrome running on the latest versions of Windows 7 and Windows 10. At the moment, there are no indications the hidden window trick is being used against users of other browsers and operating systems, but don’t be surprised if that happens soon.

https://arstechnica.com/information…yptomining-comes-to-a-browser-near-you/?amp=1

 

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15 Security Concerns with Mobile Payments – and How to Avoid Them

Smart cyber security top 15 tips for smartphone security

How Mobile Security Works and Why You Need to Know About Cyber-Security: 

Mobile pay platforms are quickly overtaking more traditional payment options because of their simplicity and convenience. However their ease of use begs the question – how safe are these solutions, really?

According to a 2015 study by the non-profit ISACA, nearly half of the security experts polled were of the opinion that mobile technologies needed better security and 87 percent felt related data breaches would go up in 2016.

To their point, ITRC recently confirmed that all U.S. data breaches increased 40 percent last year, and many breaches involved issues with mobile security.

With cybercrime on the rise, how can you prevent yourself from becoming the next victim of a scam? While payment security will be an ongoing challenge, mobile transactions can be completed safely by taking the following security concerns seriously and implementing appropriate precautions.

Phishing Emails

Despite numerous security expert warnings, email users continue to fall prey to emails that appear to come from trusted senders like banks and retailers. Manipulative language creates a sense of urgency that prompts recipients to make an impulsive decision. They click embedded links and share data on non-trusted sites, download attachments that contain hidden data-mining malware or share infected emails with contacts. To protect yourself, check that email addresses always match sender names, visit sender websites via bookmarks or typed URL address bar submissions and scan all downloads with a trusted anti-virus program.

SMiShing Messages

Criminals also commit fraud via Short Message Service (SMS) messages. The same phishing rules above apply to text messages. If you still doubt the origin of a message or a sender’s intentions, contact the assumed sender via a phone call to confirm that they sent you the message. Consider reaching out to your bank – but contact them via the usual channels, do not click any URLs sent via text.

App Clones

“App clones”, or apps purposefully designed to look like well-known, highly-secure payment apps, make it simple for criminals to commit credit card fraud or obtain other valuable personal information. These programs either have ridiculously poor security that gives criminals backdoor access to merchant systems or contain pre-installed malware that steals financial data processed through them. Stay away from jailbroken devices, as these phones may be altered to remove developer restrictions and may accept dangerous third-party apps accidentally.

Popular Apps

Even popular mobile finance apps have security issues. In January 2016, Arxan Technologies revealed that 90 percent of popular finance apps had two or more serious vulnerabilities. Regularly review mobile tech press releases to always know which apps are the safest in finance to use.

Weak Authentication

Criminals love mobile payment systems that have weak authentication tools. Any payment systems that you use, including e-commerce browser apps and virtual wallets, should have multi-factor authentication and multi-level data encryption. For example, a secure system might require a user ID, password and security image confirmation or message you a one-time-use PIN. The best payment systems turn your credit card data into a token so that it can’t be read anywhere else.

Unsecured Wi-Fi

Some mobile users also believe foolishly that unsecured Wi-Fi spots in public places like cafes, hotels and libraries are 100 percent safe. Never perform financial transactions via mobile apps over unsecured Wi-Fi. If you don’t have a choice, use a trusted Virtual Private Network with Security Socket Layer protections and then close the connection when you are finished.

A short history of hacking infographic statistics

Poor Passwords

Incredibly, many people still believe that they’re safe if they pick “guest,” “123456” or personal details like birth dates and pet names as mobile device and online financial app and account passwords. Hackers have zero difficulty cracking passwords when you make it easy for them. Always use 12 digits or more that contain a mix of numbers, letters, lowercase and capital letters, and symbols.

Outdated Systems

Security suffers when you or a merchant use out-of-date mobile systems. Criminals find it easiest to attack older systems because they have had the most time to find and take advantage of non-patched security weaknesses. For the best protection, never trust outdated merchant systems and update your mobile hardware and software regularly.

Unsafe Browsers

Outdated and third-party mobile browsers have serious vulnerabilities. Worse yet, some third-party browsers are actually designed by scammers to inflict harm. Use a browser approved by the device manufacturer and keep its security updated.

Action Malware

Hackers can use keyloggers to spy on your every keystroke. Also, they use mobile scanners to spread malware. When you scan a Quick Response or bar code with a phone, you might install a data miner or visit a phishing website. Update and use your security software regularly and use extra caution when scanning codes.

IoT Botnets

The Internet of Things offers fantastic device interconnectivity at home and work and in public spaces, but it also helps hackers spread malware with ease and use networked hijacked devices, known as botnets and thingbots, as data miners, ransomware sharers and Distributed Denial of Service tools. To prevent this rise, use your mobile device’s factory-installed security software, turn off your router’s remote management tools and increase your Wi-Fi security.

Security Fatigue

Typical mobile device owners use a lot of different hardware and software systems by different manufacturers. Why is this a problem? Each system has different security flaws and update requirements. Instead of making mistakes trying to keep up with the security for all of these systems, stick with hardware and software from one or two manufacturers.

Port Eavesdropping

Criminals utilize mobile microphones and cameras and similar connected non-mobile equipment to gather the details that they need to steal your identity, money or property. They might listen to you input a security PIN over the phone or track your keystrokes and then burglarize your home or office while you’re away. Install programs that detect spying and turn off devices that contain listening or viewing equipment when they aren’t in use.

Changing Tactics

Criminals continuously seek new ways to commit fraud. Diligently seek out information about the latest fraud tactics and pursue new security and payment safety tips and tricks. While one anonymous hacker might attack you via a barcode scan, another might attack via a trusted company’s infected e-commerce checkout. The only defense against these ever-changing tactics is knowledge and adaptation.

Basic Human Error

People often fail to lock their screens or watch for thieves who know how to deftly lift mobile devices from public spots like tables and parked cars. They turn off security features to speed up their devices, break proprietary software to download third-party apps and fail to invest in remote device tracking and wipe programs. The best way that you can improve your security is by recognizing and avoiding these common errors in judgement.

Many concerns around the use of mobile payments stem from the fact that, in the face of rapidly changing technology, mobile security protocols haven’t been able to keep up. But as a matter of fact, mobile payment technology may actually soon be safer than the plastic you currently keep in your pocket. If you’re cautious and use common sense when making mobile payment transactions, there’s no reason your financial information should find its way into the wrong hands.

Also be sure to readBlockchain Solutions for Cyber & Data Security

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