Story 2014-07-21

Russian hackers placed digital "bomb" in Nasdaq computers

in security on (#3RC)
story imageIt's old news, but it's only being reported today: turns out, in 2010, Russian crackers exploited a zero-day vulnerability to install some malware on the Nasdaq stock exchange systems capable of derailing the stock exchange.
The October alert prompted the involvement of the National Security Agency, and just into 2011, the NSA concluded there was a significant danger. ... [The] National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), whose mission is to spot and coordinate the government's response to digital attacks on the U.S. ... reviewed the FBI data and additional information from the NSA, and quickly concluded they needed to escalate. Thus began a frenzied five-month investigation that would test the cyber-response capabilities of the U.S. and directly involve the president. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies, under pressure to decipher a complex hack, struggled to provide an even moderately clear picture to policymakers. After months of work, there were still basic disagreements in different parts of government over who was behind the incident and why.
Bloomberg Businessweek does an excellent job of telling the story of competing security agencies, their different mandates, and how they cooperated and sometimes competed to deal with the intrusion.
The agents found little evidence of a broader attack. What they did find were systematic security failures riddling some of the most important U.S. financial institutions. It turned out that many on the list were vulnerable to the same attack that struck Nasdaq. They were spared only because the hackers hadn't bothered to try.

Japan's Robot Revolution and the Uncanny Valley

in robotics on (#3RB)
story imageBladerunner, the Jetsons, I, Robot: our fascination with a future world where robots serve (and sometimes kill) us continues unabated. But while most of us are just idly daydreaming what that world of automated companions would look like, or working on purpose-built robotics like Big Dog, Japan is aggressively pushing the envelope on robotics research. In fact, by most accounts, they've got us squarely in the Uncanny Valley, that awkward emotional malaise you feel when interacting with a robotic being that is almost, but not quite human.

CNN has published an interesting overview of the Robot Revolution in Japan1. And it's pretty amazing. Start with the world's first virtual pop star, or Pepper, the first humanoid robot programmed with emotion. Freaky? Then check out Miraikan [Japanese], Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where a lot of the magic is happening.
Here, visitors can interact with ASIMO, the Honda-developed android that can run, perform tasks, and interact with people. Honda first unveiled ASIMO a decade ago, and even today it remains a futuristic vision of what robotics may one day hope to achieve on a consumer scale. ... There's Otonaroid, who looks like a young Japanese woman with silicone skin, flowing hair, and blinking eyes. ... And then there's Kodomoroid, an android newscaster that reads headlines to museum visitors, and Telenoid, a creepy-looking communication device that allows you to "speak" to friends or loved ones who are far away -- and feel as if you are sitting with them. You can hold and hug the Telenoid, and it hugs you back with its little stubs for arms.
Curious to see what the future looks like? Now's your chance.

1[Ed. note: This time, the "Robot Revolution" refers to spectacular advances in the science of designing and building robots. Next time though, it's going to mean we all hide in the hill caves before the Killer Robots overthrow and enslave us ...]

Researchers demonstrate health risks posed by 'third hand' tobacco smoke

in science on (#3RA)
It seems popular opinion is relatively settled that breathing second-hand smoke is unhealthy, and that non-smokers who are exposed to it are at risk of illness. But the scientific evidence keeps piling up to support that theory, and even to extend the risks to another level: Third-hand Smoke!

Research into "third hand" smoke (residual tobacco smoke gases and particles that are deposited to surfaces and dust) has highlighted the potential cancer risk in non-smokers of non-dietary ingestion and dermal exposure to carcinogen N-nitrosamines and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) [Abstract].
Using a highly sensitive and selective analytical approach we have determined the presence of nicotine, eight N-nitrosamines and five tobacco-specific nitrosamines in forty-six settled dust samples from homes occupied by both smokers and non-smokers. Using observations of house dust composition, we have estimated the cancer risk by applying the most recent official toxicological information. Calculated cancer risks through exposure to the observed levels of TSNAs at an early life stage (1 to 6 years old) exceeded the upper-bound risk recommended by the USEPA in 77% of smokers' and 64% of non-smokers' homes.
[Ed. note: apparently, not only should you not stand next to someone smoking, but you shouldn't even walk through a place where someone has smoked, ever. Cancel my next trip to Paris, please.]

Monday poll: If you're looking for programming work in 5-10 years, you'd better learn:

in ask on (#3R9)
Our Monday poll is up, and it involves choice of programming languages in order to stay hire-able in a moving market.

Look 5-10 years into the future and give us the advice you'd give your son/daughter headed to an expensive university to learn computer programming. That doesn't mean: what language do you need to learn to get that job? It means: what languages (plural!) would not only facilitate employment but also provide a balanced understanding of systems and processes and even perhaps set the stage for learning and understanding other things? You might recommend Ruby for example, knowing full well that Ruby won't exist in 2019 but its likely successor will require a programmer to understand its origins in Ruby choices, for example.

This is an Approval Count poll, so you can - and should! - choose all or any of the languages you'd recommend. Obviously this list couldn't have been exhaustive, so if I've missed your favorite, add it into the comments.