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Carol R. Venuti

Carol R. Venuti

Sunday, 21 May 2017 06:24

The Rise of the Mind-Reading Machines

So you made your way to this article, but how did you do it? Did your motor cortex fire up the muscle fibers in your fingers to click on a particular area of the screen, prompting the CPU inside your device to load up this page? One day that could all seem decidedly archaic. That’s because some smart people are investing big time and money into computers that can read your thoughts as they are conceived. The goal is to have machines that know what you want and will give you the information you need before you could literally lift a finger. But how far off might such a future be? Let’s take a look at the current state of these brain-computer interfaces, and the challenges that remain in getting them inside our heads.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have actually been in the works for decades, but sometimes it takes a billionaire that likes landing rockets on floating pads in the ocean to make an audacious technology actually seem possible. Elon Musk generated quite a buzz when he revealed that he was working on such a thing (more on that later), but in actual fact, the basis for these mind-reading machines has its roots in neuroscience research from almost a century ago.

In 1924, German psychiatrist Hans Berger made the first ever EEG (electroencephalogram) recordings during neurosurgery on a 17-year-old boy. What Berger later described as “alpha and beta” waves would soon be recognized as electrical activity that was, and still is, of huge assistance to physicians working to detect brain disorders.

mind-reading-machinesBy attaching electrodes to the scalp and having the measured brainwaves appear onscreen as a graph, physicians can look out for abnormalities and gain insights into the health of the brain. Rapid spikes might be indicative of epilepsy or seizures, for example, while slower waves may be the result of a tumor or stroke. Alzheimer’s, narcolepsy and brain damage are other examples of conditions that can be surveyed by EEG.

Toward direct brain-computer communication

In the 1970’s, an electrical engineer from Belgium called Jacques Vidal started to wonder whether these electrical signals could be used for applications beyond the medical realm. His 1973 peer-reviewed paper “Toward direct brain-computer communication,” was the first to describe a brain-computer interface (he is now credited with coining the term), and explored the feasibility of pulling electrical signals from the brain and converting them into commands for a computer.

“Can these observable electric brain signals be put to work as carriers of information in man-computer communication or for the purpose of controlling such external apparatus as prosthetic devices or spaceships?” wrote the retired air force lieutenant. “Even on the sole basis of the present states-of-the-art of computer science and neurophysiology, one may suggest that such a feat is potentially around the corner.”


That corner may have taken a little longer to round than Vidal guessed, but his ideas on how BCIs could be used are proving quite prescient.

At the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, an international collaboration of scientists making up The Walk Again Project demonstrated their latest advance in assisted mobility technology: a brain-controlled exoskeleton. Using a set of non-invasive electrodes to read brain signals and relay commands to the lightweight exoskeleton, a paraplegic man completed the symbolic kick-off for the tournament.

We have also seen scientists progress toward mobility solutions by drawing data from non-invasive EEG devices to reconstruct 3D hand and leg movements, enable a paraplegic to walk again using his own paralyzed limbs and allow a quadriplegic woman to eat chocolate with a mind-controlled robotic arm.

Taking flight

And spaceships? Alright we’re not there yet, but NASA is exploring the possibilities. In 2013 the space agency teamed up with scientists from the University of Essex on a project where two subjects controlled a virtual spaceship using BCIs. The study was designed to explore the potential of using BCIs to control planetary rovers, though that kind of thing remains a long way off.

In the meantime, drones aren’t a bad compromise, right? Unmanned aircraft have become quite a popular testbed for BCI technologies. We have seen mind-controlled quadcopters and fixed-wing drones, with some even adding a competitive flavor to the mix to really nudge things along.

In April last year, neuroscientists at the University of Florida held the first Brain Drone Race, an event that asks pilots to will their drones across the finish line using only their thoughts. The technology involved here takes brain signals collected by EEG devices and converts them into control inputs for drones. So rather than pushing left on a joystick, you only have to think about pushing left.

But more than purely competitive spectacle, Brain Drone Race was an attempt at inspiring further developments in the BCI area, with a view to one day using the devices in everyday life. And the scientist behind the event, Juan Gilbert – chair of computer, information science and engineering at the University of Florida – tells us that they are making some good progress.

“We are planning Brain-Drone Race II in a couple of weeks and we have started some projects,” he tells New Atlas. “We have a project called Brainwords where we are trying to use the BCI as an authentication device; imagine using your thoughts as your passwords. We have a project sponsored by Lenovo to play the drums with your thoughts. We are also working on the design of a new BCI that is easier to use by the general population. We have a project on building tools that make the BCI easier to use for app development and we are doing research on the BCI for monitoring your brain activity, or what’s called quantified-self.”

As it stands, non-invasive BCIs like EEG caps need to read the electrical signals through layers of skull and tissue, so there is a lot of noise to sort through, which does limit their use. For the clearest signals and truly game-changing potential, you need to get closer to the source.

Insane in the membrane

They require surgery and carry risk of infection, but BCIs that can be planted inside the head in direct contact with the surface of the brain offer the best signal quality. And this approach has allowed scientists to do some truly remarkable things.

Back in 2014, Dr Ali Rezai, the director of Ohio State University’s Center for Neuromodulation, implanted a tiny 4 x 4 mm microchip on the surface of Ian Burkhart’s motor cortex. 26-year-old Burkhart had suffered a diving injury at age 19 that left him quadriplegic. The doctor’s hope was that this chip, when used with purpose-made algorithms and an electrical sleeve to stimulate muscles in the arm, would allow them to bypass the damaged spinal cord and use Burkhart’s thoughts to control his fingers and hands.

“The results are excellent,” Rezai now tells New Atlas. “Ian is the first human who was able to move his own hand and arm using his thoughts. He initially achieved rough movements of the wrist and hand. Over the past two-and-a-half years, Ian has exceeded our expectations and is able to perform increasingly complex movements that he could not have imagined ever doing again, such as a rapidly opening and closing his hands; moving fingers; grabbing and holding objects like a cup, toothbrush, phone, key and credit card; opening and close a jar; stirring a cup of coffee; pouring from a bottle; holding a phone; feeding and grooming and even playing a video game.”

Another recent example involves a man paralyzed from the shoulders down regaining control of his paralyzed muscles by also bypassing the injured spinal cord. To do this, scientists implanted two aspirin-sized 96-channel electrode arrays into his motor cortex, and connected another set of electrodes to his arm. Then with some training, just by thinking about moving his arm or hand, his brain signals could be translated into electric pulses that triggered the desired muscles movements in his arm.

So the BCIs of today are already impacting lives of disabled people in a very real way. But Elon Musk imagines machines that go well beyond that.

What does this future look like?

So let’s fast forward 10, 20, 40 years down the track, whenever it might be that only total Luddites would dare walk around without BCIs inside their heads. What are we doing? What would communication look like? Do we even need to speak anymore?

“If I were to communicate a concept to you, you would essentially engage in consensual telepathy,” says Musk. “You wouldn’t need to verbalize unless you want to add a little flair to the conversation or something, but the conversation would be conceptual interaction on a level that’s difficult to conceive of right now.”

So what Musk is essentially describing is a completely different kind of communication, one that is impossible for us to wrap our stupid, non-computer-enhanced heads around. Such a platform wouldn’t just make typing by finger on a mobile phone old-hat, it would do the same to speech, our primary means of communication for tens of thousands of years.

All of the thoughts rattling around in your head amount to much more information than can be instantly conveyed in English, French or Mandarin including all the nuanced emotions, half-baked ideas, fleeting moments of inspiration, adrenaline, excitement and fear. Planting a brain-reading device inside your head could open up entirely new ways of expressing yourself.

What does it feel like to have a close shave with death? Score the winning touchdown in a Superbowl? Experience true love and have your heart broken? How about other experiences that defy words? That Musk sees this future as not only possible, but essential for our survival, is a little unsettling, but hey, it beats becoming a house cat.

Source: This article was published on newworldwow.com

We’ve seen a few concepts imagining what iOS 11 could look like, but today the folks at MacStories have put together a video highlighting new features that could come to the iPad as part of the update. The incredibly well thought out concept imagines features such as system-wide drag and drop, a new Shelf feature, and much more…

This concept, designed by Sam Beckett, focuses primarily on the productivity features that could be brought to the iPad with iOS 11. After all, many have said that the iPad lacks the features and capabilities to make it a true PC replacement like Apple markets it to be.

Headlining the concept is support for system-wide drag and drop. While iOS currently supports this capability in random places, making drag and drop available throughout the operating system would allow users to easily move content such as images, text, and files between applications and documents.

Building on drag and drop is a new “Shelf” feature and interface. This would appear when users drag content towards the top of the display and offer a place for users to save content for later. For instance, you could save a song, image, or app in the Shelf and quickly access it later from another application.

There’s also a redesigned Split View app picker. The current interface for this functionality simply lets users scroll vertically through a long list of applications to find what they’re looking for. It’s one of my biggest issues with iOS on the iPad, and a redesign is long overdue.

The picker imagined in this concept presents users with a grid of applications, similar to what they’d see on their home screen, as well as integrated Spotlight for easily searching for apps. Recently used apps would also be displayed along the bottom in a card interface. The interface imagined here is much better than what Apple actually shipped and here’s hoping the company takes a look at this concept.

MacStories also imagines the possibility of Apple bringing a Finder app to the iPad. While the company originally argued that the iPad didn’t need a filesystem, it has since had a scattered change of opinion, bringing things like iCloud Drive to iOS. Finder on iPad would allow users to have a cohesive interface for tracking down documents between applications, creating folders, and managing what they store in the cloud.

Finally, the concept depicts various other design tweaks, better extension support in Safari, improvements to Notes and Control Center, and much more.

Apple is expected to introduce iOS 11 next month at WWDC 2017, alongside the rumored 10.5-inch iPad Pro. Seems like the perfect opportunity to reveal a dramatic iOS overhaul for iPad, to me. Check out the concept video below and a wide range of images over on MacStories.

Source: This article was published on 9to5mac.com

I’m sure you are constantly told to manage your time better, because it boosts your efficiency, saves time, and reduces stress. Everyone knows the benefits of a better time management, but how many of us could actually do it?

Most of us like to procrastinate and realize we don’t have much time left, then the thought of having a lot of unfinished tasks stresses you out. If you find yourself working last minute, or submitting your task late, your time management needs some help.

Before I tell you how you could manage your time better, you need to know what it means to have good time management.

Good time management doesn’t mainly focus on quantity.

To most people, managing your time well equals getting more done in less time.

Say you have 20 things to do within 10 hours, and you successfully finish all the tasks on time. The more things you can accomplish in a limited time frame, the better your time management is.

Without a doubt, you finish everything on your to-do list on time, but is this the most effective way to manage your time?

It is more effective to focus on quality.

Time management is basically organizing and planning how much time you spend on the tasks in hand. Having better time management takes time and skill. The more effective time management focuses on doing a few things with great importance, which means quality over quantity.

Focus on the results rather than the activities. It’s good to keep track of how much you have done, but it is more important to decide on what you should pursue on how much value you could add.

When you don’t feel stressed or overburdened as you move from one task to the other, you know you have a better time management. Here are 3 ways to improve your time management skills:

1. Prioritize your tasks according to their importance and urgency

Before you work on the tasks on your to-do list, you have to know which ones are urgent and important. This is the Eisenhower’s principle.

  • Important tasks lead you to achieve your personal goals; while
  • Urgent activities are immediate, with instant consequences, these tasks are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goal.

The Eisenhower’s principle suggests prioritization of tasks into four levels:

  1. Important and urgent: These tasks should be dealt with FIRST. They are either unexpected issues or those you have waited until the very last minute to work on. You can plan ahead to avoid the latter from happening, but for unplanned surprises, leave some time out in your schedule to allow room for buffering.
  2. Important but not urgent: These activities are important to achieve your goals, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to work on.
  3. Not important but urgent: These are the roadblocks to block you from accomplishing your own tasks, and they are usually from others. Don’t be worried to say “no” or delegate the tasks to someone else. But do leave some slots open, in case people really need your help.
  4. Not important and not urgent: Always avoid these tasks. They are simply distractions.

The main key to better prioritize your tasks is leaving slots of time out to make sure you have enough time if something goes wrong.

2. Smartly use leverage to gain more

There are many approaches to one task, and all of them are effective, but to truly make use of the least effort for the greatest returns, apply the concept of leverage to finish your task.

One of the ways to make the most out of everything is to find common patterns in tasks and set up a workflow so you can smoothly finish all the tasks you need without spending unnecessary extra time and energy.

Say you need to write 3 articles in 10 hours. You dissect the processes in writing a article, like research, writing, and proofreading. You then develop a workflow to avoid writing while researching, then going back to edit your article.

Another way is to leverage other’s time. I have mentioned there are “not important but urgent”, and these are the tasks you can delegate to ease your burdens.

Here are more suggestions on leveraging your time.

3. Give yourself timed sessions and short breaks

Sometimes, spending too much time on a single task can actually backfire. The law of diminishing returns suggests there’s a point where the level of profits may not be in proportion to the level of investment.To better your time management, you have to keep in mind to not over-invest your time in certain tasks. You can use the Pomodoro Technique[1] to avoid working overtime.The Pomodoro Technique is developed in 1980s. The Italian word “pomodoro” means “tomato”. The technique is simple — divide and structure your work in 25-minute sessions (or pomodori), with a 5-minute break in between.Say you are working a presentation, you estimate you need around 125 minutes to complete the task. You divide the task into five 25-minute sessions with a short break in between. Make sure the sessions don’t clash with your other plans or commitments. Set a timer to 25 minutes and start your work. Take a rest after each session then repeat until the sessions are over. Take a 20 to 30-minute break afterwards.

Use technology to start bettering your time management.

It might be difficult to incorporate the Eisenhower’s principle, the concept of leverage, and Pomodoro Technique all into one for a better time management. Here are three time management apps to help you along the way:

MyLifeOrganized (MLO)

The first step to better your time management is organization. MLO offers help for you to target what you want to accomplish in order to meet your objectives. It generates to-do lists for you, prioritize your tasks, and track your actions.Toggl
It’s always good to have a log sheet to time yourself. Toggl helps you to manage your time better by tracking how much time you spent on each and every task.Focus Booster
Have you ever wandered off to somewhere else while working on something important? Focus Booster uses the Pomodoro Technique and allows you to set a timed sessions for better focus and work quality.

[1] ^ Cirillo Company: Do More and Have Fun with Time Management

Source : lifehack.org

The Universal Windows Platform introduces a walled garden for Windows applications, along with sandboxing to ensure the apps behave

Microsoft’s renewed focus on Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is about more than an improved user experience or an attempt to get additional apps into the Windows Store. UWP moves Windows application development closer to a more secure ecosystem where Windows software can’t wreak havoc on user devices or compromise data.

UWP was originally introduced alongside Windows 10, with several enhancements announced at Microsoft Build 2016. UWP gives developers several options for user authentication, ranging from single sign-on to third-party provider services such as Facebook or Twitter login. The apps also work with Windows Hello, which lets developers add fingerprint biometrics to applications so that users can swipe their fingers to confirm an in-app purchase or access restricted resources. At Build, Microsoft’s Bryan Roper demonstrated on stage how he could log in to the USAA website by swiping his finger on his computer’s built-in fingerprint reader.

The developer initiative has plenty of critics, notably Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney, who doesn’t like Microsoft’s shift toward a walled-garden approach for Windows. In the past, it was easy to develop Windows software and make it available from anywhere. With UWP, developers now have to be accepted into the developer program and submit their UWP apps to Microsoft for approval. Microsoft digitally signs accepted apps and makes them available through the Windows Store. Developers can also take the signed apps and distribute them through their own means.

UWP and the Windows Store, however, aren't as onerous as Apple’s Mac OS X store or the App Store for iOS apps, because developers can continue to push their applications through their own channels.

“This is an open platform. For over 30 years, Windows has welcomed an open ecosystem of hardware and software partners. Nothing changes with the Universal Windows Platform,” Satya Nadella said at Build.

Nothing changes, except for the fact that Windows becomes more secure.

Walled gardens enhance security

While the days before UWP were great for widespread adoption, it was terrible for security. Malware is much more prevalent on the PC platform, precisely because of the open distribution model. If a developer made a mistake and failed to use the API correctly, the resulting application could cause compatibility issues with the operating system, device drivers, or other installed applications. Software updates are difficult to manage, and in some instances upgrading the operating system can break applications. All this creates a maintenance and security nightmare on the PC.

A gatekeeper is good for security because it adopts a more application-centric model that is easier to secure and trust. Scanning applications to determine how they use approved APIs (UWP has more than 1,000) helps reduce misbehavior. Microsoft can enforce technical rules, such as prohibiting the use of some APIs in certain cases and mandating and enforcing performance requirements.

Source: infoworld.com

Google has added a new "upsetting-offensive" content flag to its search engine guidelines as the company makes a renewed effort to clamp down on inaccurate and offensive content.

The tech giant has given the new tool to its global review teams, known as quality raters, who analyse real search results Google sends them and are tasked with flagging potentially unsuitable content, such as pornography or so-called fake news.

Google uses the data from its quality raters to help improve its search algorithms, but the raters themselves do not have the power to alter Google search results.

The firm has not commented officially on the latest update to its search guidelines, but senior engineer Paul Haahr told industry blog Search Engine Land: "We're explicitly avoiding the term 'fake news,' because we think it is too vague.

"Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target."

In the updated guidelines, which have been publicly available since 2013, Google says the new flag should be applied to any results which promote hate or violence against a group of people based on race, religion, ethnicity, graphic violence or explicit information on how to carry out harmful activities, as well as content that would be deemed offensive or upsetting in specific regions around the world.

The guidelines for quality raters include example searches to demonstrate the feature in use, including one for "holocaust history" which shows two conflicting results referencing the atrocity.

The first result suggests the Holocaust "didn't happen" and the guidelines say this should be marked as "upsetting-offensive" by raters because many people would find such a suggestion offensive.

In contrast, a second example result from The History Channel is classed as a "factually accurate source of historical information" and would not be marked with the flag.

Flagging items does not remove or demote it in search results, but the data does help Google's machine learning better identify offensive content.

Google, along with social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been criticised in recent months over their handling of offensive and explicit content, as well as the circulation of fake news on their platforms.

Source : http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/google-adds-new-upsettingoffensive-content-flag-to-search-engine-guidelines-35538688.html

THE first steps of merging humans’ minds with machines are underway as a Canadian company hopes to create artificial intelligence (AI) capable of performing complex dextrous tasks.is the most powerful to date.

By holding motion-tracking controllers and wearing virtual reality headsets, humans will act as a “pilot” to the robots who will learn from their coordinator, meaning the machine will learn how to perform tasks by picking up on human capabilities.

The company known as Kindred will officially launch its product later this year, initially for retailers who can teach the robots how to do things such as handle clothes and place them in their designated spots.

The robots will eventually be able to perform medial tasks more quickly and efficiently than humans can.

However, the company’s end goal is to create an AI system which is the most powerful to date. 


The machines can learn from human actions

Geordie Rose, who is a cofounder and the CEO of Kindred, told Technology Review: “A pilot can see, hear, and feel what the robot is seeing, hearing, and feeling. When the pilot acts, those actions move the robot.

“This allows us to show robots how to act like people. 


The machines are controlled using VR

“Humans aren't the fastest or best at all aspects of robot control, like putting things in specific locations, but humans are still best at making sense of tricky or unforeseen situations.”

The machine initially tries to perform a task by itself, such as grabbing an item, but if it is not able to, then it calls on human assistance to teach it.


The people will also be fitted with controls

The human then dons a virtual reality headset and a controller which essentially merges the two entities, allowing the former to teach the latter through action.

Suzanne Gildert, Kindred’s chief scientific officer, said: “The idea was if you could do that for long enough, and if you had some sort of AI system in the background learning, that maybe you could try out many different AI models and see which ones trained better.

Source : http://www.express.co.uk/news/science/776671/AI-humans-MERGE-mind-melding-kindred

Android still tends to be the default platform although iOS versions are usually available after a short delay. The issue of platform support is more important that it might appear. Even if you don’t personally use an iPhone, say, the fact that your favoured contacts do will render any app that doesn’t support both platforms useless if the same app is needed at both ends. Some apps integrate with third-party applications, for instance email clients. That can be important for businesses – can the app support the preferred communications software used by an organisation and will it work across desktop as well as mobile? Some can, some can’t.

Not WhatsApp 

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is to incrementally introduce two-factor authentication to all of its users as an optional added layer of security.

Two-factor authentication essentially means verifying your identity twice – and in this case users will choose to access their account through a six-digit number. WhatsApp users will need to enable the feature through their settings and once switched on, the passcode will remain on the associated account, no matter which device it's being accessed through.

The feature first appeared in beta late last year, and the app will require users to enter the passcode about once every week. Users will be able to set up a backup email in case they forget the passcode.

It's unlikely to inspire enormous confidence in WhatsApp as a secure platform, but it is a small nod towards security for personal use.

Earlier this year, a Guardian report claimed that a security vulnerability in WhatsApp meant Facebook – WhatsApp’s parent company – could read encrypted messages sent through the service. Security researcher Tobias Boelter told the paper that WhatsApp is able to create new encryption keys for offline users, unknown to the sender or recipient, meaning that the company could generate new keys if it’s ordered to.

And although Facebook insists that it couldn’t read your WhatsApp messages even if it wanted to, critics have been suspicious since the buy – since Facebook’s entire platform depends on data and advertising, and its own Messenger service is infamously intrusive.

In terms of security, it’s important to distinguish pure secure messaging apps from apps that happen to have some security, for instance the hugely popular WhatsApp and SnapChat. Many use encryption but operate using insecure channels in which the keys are stored centrally and hide behind proprietary technologies that mask software weaknesses.

As it happens, earlier in 2015 Facebook’s WhatsApp started using the TextSecure platform (now called Signal – see below) from the Open Whisper Systems which improves security by using true end-to-end encryption with perfect forward secrecy (PFS). This means the keys used to scramble communication can’t be captured through a server and no single key gives access to past messages. It was presumably this sort of innovation that so upset British Prime Minister David Cameron when in early 2015 he started making thinly-veiled references to the difficulty security services were having in getting round the message encryption being used by intelligence targets.

In April 2016, the Signal protocol was rolled out as a mandatory upgrade to all WhatsApp users across all mobile platforms, an important moment for a technology that has spent years on the fringes. At a stroke it also made Open Whisper Systems the most widely used encryption platform on earth, albeit one largely used transparently without the user realising it.

It's fair to say that police and intelligence services are now worried about the improved security on offer from these apps, which risks making them favoured software for terrorists and criminals. That said, they are not impregnable. Using competent encryption secures the communication channel but does not necessarily secure the device itself. There are other ways to sniff communications than breaking encryption.

Most recent apps will, in addition to messaging, usually any combination of video, voice, IM, file exchange, and sometimes (though with a lot more difficulty because mobile networks work differently) SMS and MMS messaging. An interesting theme is the way that apps in this feature often share underlying open source technologies although this doesn’t mean that the apps are identical to one another. The user interface and additional security features will still vary.

For further background, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published a comparison in 2014 of the of the sometimes confusing levels of security on offer from the growing population of apps on the market. All mobile messaging apps claim to use good security but this is a useful reminder that definitions of what ‘secure’ actually means are starting to change.

The future? There are two trends to watch out for. First, business-class secure messaging systems have started to appear, including ones that operate as services or using centralised enterprise control. A second and intriguing direction is the morphiing of static messaging apps into complete broadcasting systems that can distribute different types of content and then erase all traces of this activity once it has been read. This latter capability is likely to prove another contentious development for governments and the police. 

Best secure mobile messaging apps - Signal 

Signal (formerly TextSecure Private Messenger) is arguably the pioneering secure mobile messaging platform that kickstarted the whole sector. Originally created by Moxie Marlinspike and Trevor Perrin’s Whisper Systems, the firm was sold to Twitter in 2011, at which point things looked uncertain. In 2013, however, TextSecure re-emerged as an open source project under the auspices of a new company, Open Whisper Systems since when it and has gained endorsements from figures such as Bruce Schneier and Edward Snowden.

We call it a platform because Signal is more than an app, which is simply the piece that sits on the Android or iOS device and which holds encryption keys. The App itself can be used to send and receive secure instant messages and attachments, set up voice calls, and has a convenient group messaging function. It is also possible to use Signal as the default SMS app but this no longer uses encryption for a host of practical and security reasons.

Signal was designed as an independent end-to-end platform that transports messages across its own data infrastructure rather than, as in the past, Google’s Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) network. The Axolotl protocol underlying the platform’s security is also used by G Data (see below) as well as Facebook’s WhatsApp, which isn’t to say that Facebook’s implementation won’t have other vulnerabilities – as ever use with care.

Using the app is pretty straightforward. Installation begins with the phone number verification after which the software will function standalone or as the default SMS messaging app after offering to import existing texts. The most secure way to use it is probably as the default messaging app, so that an insecure message doesn’t get sent by accident.

Interestingly, Signal just launched encrypted video calls, stepping up its current level of encryption. The app previously supported voice call end-to-end encryption but this update will ensure video capabilities hold the same level of security as its chat functionality.

Additional security features include an app password and with a blocker that stops screen scraping. It is also possible to control what types of data are exchanged over Wi-Fi and mobile data. Obviously both sender and receiver need to have the app installed, which worked simply by entering the phone number of any other registered user.

Security: based on OTR protocol, uses AES-256, Curve25519 and HMAC-SHA256; voice security (formerly RedPhone app) based on ZRTP

Pro: Android and iOS, handles voice as well as messaging, Edward Snowden said to use this app

Con: None although service reportedly not always the fastest

Next: Secure Chat

Best secure mobile messaging apps - G Data Secure Chat

Built on Whisper Systems’ open source Axolotl protocol (see above), the recently-launched Secure Chat is a well-designed free app with the drawback of being Android only for the time being. Despite its open source underpinnings, the app won’t operate securely with anything other than another Secure Chat app at the other end.

The app sets out to replace your existing messaging and texting apps, offering to import and encrypt existing messaging data for safe keeping. As with Signal, enrolling users (including in groups) happens by firing up the app and performing number verification for each account. One feature we liked about the app was the simple way users could switch between secure chat (free messaging across secure infrastructure), secure SMS (across carrier infrastructure at the user’s cost) and insecure SMS. Conventional phone calls can also be launched from inside the app – this really does aim to replace the communication functions in one go although it can also be used more occasionally for the odd message if that is preferable.

So that receivers can be sure that a message comes from the genuine contact, the app provides a QR ‘verify identity’ code which the other contact can scan (they san yours, you scan theirs). What happens if the users are far apart from one another? We’re not sure.

The app blocks screen scraping by external apps and can be secured behind a password. One interesting feature is self-destructing messages activated by clicking a small icon on the composition screen, which open on the receiver’s phone with a countdown timer of up to 6- seconds after which each is deleted. The user can also have hidden contacts that are accessed with a password.

Security: Not disclosed but will be similar to Signal, Germany-based servers


Pro: incredibly easy to set up and use – very similar to Signal but lacks the voice support that has now been added to that product

Con: none really although this is oriented towards messaging only

Next: Telegram

Best secure mobile messaging apps - Telegram

Launched by two Germany-based brothers in 2013 Telegram’s distinctiveness is its multi-platform support, including not only and Android and iPhone but Windows Phone as well as Windows OS X and even Linux. With the ability to handle a wide range of attachments, it looks more like a cloud messaging system replacing email as well as secure messaging for groups up to 200 users with unlimited broadcasting.

There are some important differences between Telegram and the other apps covered here, starting with the fact that users are discoverable by user name and not only number. This means that contacts don’t ever have to know a phone number when using Telegram, a mode of communication closer to a social network. The platform is also open to abuse, if that's the correct term, including reportedly being used by jihadists for propaganda purposes, which exploit its broadcasting capablity. This is not the fault of the developer but does bring home how such apps can be mis-used in ways that are difficult to control.  

The sign up asks for an optional user name in addition to the account mobile number, and requires the user verify the number by receiving and entering an SMS code. The app is polite enough to ask for access to the user’s phone book and other data, which can be refused, and handily notices which contacts within that list already have signed up for the app.

Security: uses the MTProto protocol, 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, RSA 2048 encryption and Diffie–Hellman secure key exchange

Pro: multi-platform support including desktop computers, access files from anywhere

Con: More a cloud platform than an app, also reportedly been abused by violent jihadists which could spell an image problem for the app

Next: Ceerus

Best secure mobile messaging apps - Ceerus

Ceerus is a new secure Android voice, video and messaging app from UK startup SQR Systems, one of a small group of mostly early-stage firms of that participated in the Cyber London accelerator, separately covered by Techworld. This makes the app sound immature but its origins go back to the company’s origins in 2010 as a University of Bristol research project funded by the UK Ministry of Defence.

Designed to secure voice and video as well as messaging, Ceerus is a step up in from some of the free apps looked here in that it can scale to departmental, enterprise, and government use and can cite a British defence giant as a trial customer. It costs £10 ($15) per month after a free trial period of one month has expired which implies a different level of development and support.

We encountered a hiccup getting it running on one of our test smartphones, a Nexus 5 running Android 6.0, so will have to report back when we’ve done full end-to-end testing.

Features: enrolment is more involved than for a free app because the user is setting up a fully account - a name and password (not easy to reset for the time being so don’t forget it) is required for each SIM/number. Key exchange uses the UK CESG-approved Mikey-Sakke scheme with compression applied to banish latency issues that have plagued encrypted real-time communications from mobile devices. An API is also available to allow integration of the underlying technology with third-party applications.

Security: undisclosed but includes end-to-end encryption with perfect forward secrecy

Pro: designed for business users, adds compression, handles video and voice as well as messaging

Con: aimed at businesses rather than individuals, no iOS version yet which could be an issue in mixed environments, not yet compatible with Android 6.0

Next: Pryvate 

Best secure mobile messaging apps - Pryvate

Launched in November 2015, Cryptique’s Pryvate is intended for use by businesses as competition for high-end mobile security such as the Blackphone/Silent Circle which embeds software inside a secured version of Android. As with that service, Pryvate is another do-it-all voice, video, messaging, IM, secure file transfer, and secure storage app (integrating with Dropbox, One drive, BOX) and will integrate with third-party email clients for added convenience.

On the subject of Silent Circle, the underlying voice and IM protocol used by Pryvate is Phil Zimmermann’s ZRTP perfect forward secrecy encryption. Other features is IP shielding whereby uses can bypass VoIP and IM blocking without giving away their real IP address – the app tunnels across the Internet using Pryvate’s own UK Jersey-based servers.

The mobile service costs £4.68 (about $7) per month as a subscription but can be used after the one-month trial in the form of PryvateLite, which allows full secure IM and picture sharing with unlimited phone calls up to a duration of 1 minute. We’re not sure how practical that would be to use but it’s an option. A version including desktop capability is available for $9.99 (about $14) per month.

We weren’t able to organise a subscription in time for this article but will test this app more thoroughly in future and update this feature.

Security: 4096-bit encryption, with AES 256-bit key management. Complex mini PKI design with perfect forward secrecy design.

Source: http://www.techworld.com/security/best-secure-mobile-messaging-apps-3629914/6/

Saturday, 07 January 2017 12:24

10 of Google's Other Search Engines

Google has an obvious search engine. We're all familiar with it. It's at google.com. Within Google search, Google also has a lot of hidden search engines and hacks, such as converting currency, finding local weather forecasts, movie times, and finding stock quotes.

Search engines that search specific sub-groups of the web are known as verticle search engines. Google also calls them "specialized search." Google has quite a few of these specialized search engines. Many of these verticle search engines are deeply integrated into the main Google search engine - to the point that they really don't look any different from a regular Google search and can only be seen when you adjust your search settings. However, some of Google's search engines are separate search engines with their own URL. You might sometimes see a suggestion to try searching for those results in the main search engine, but when you're searching for specific subject matter, it just saves time to go directly to the source.

1 Google Scholar

If you search for academic research at all (including high school papers), you need to know about Google Scholar. Google Scholar is a verticle search engine dedicated to finding scholarly research.

It will not always give you access to those papers (plenty of research is hidden behind paywalls) but it will give you access to any open access publications and a direction to start searching. Academic library databases are often difficult to search. Find research on Google Scholar and then switch back to your library database to see if they have that particular document available.

Google Scholar ranks pages by taking into account the source (some journals are more authoritative than others) and the number of times the research has been cited (the citation rank). Some researchers and some studies are more authoritative than others, and citation count (how many times a particular paper is cited by other papers) is a widely used method of measuring that authority. It's also the method that was used as the foundation for Google's PageRank.

Google Scholar can also send you alerts when new scholarly research is published on topics of interest.

2 Google Patent 'Search

Google Patents is one of the more hidden verticle search engines. It's no longer as boldly branded as a separate search engine, although it does have a separate domain at patents.google.com.

Google Patent search can search through names, topic keywords, and other identifiers for patents around the world. You can view the patents, including the concept drawings. You can also use Google's patent search engine as part of a killer research portal by combining Google Patents and Google Scholar results.

Google used to have a verticle search engine that specialized completely in US government documents (Uncle Sam Search) but the service was discontinued in 2011.

3 Google Shopping

Google Shopping (previously known as Froogle and Google Product Search) is Google's search engine for, well, shopping. You can use it for both casual browsing (shopping trends) or you can search for specific items and drill down into comparison shopping. You can filter searches by things such as vendor, price range, or local availability.

Results show both online and local places to purchase items. Usually. Information for local results is limited because it relies on stores to also list their inventory online. Thus, you're not likely to get as many results from smaller local merchants.

Google also had a related search engine that it killed, revived, and then killed again called Google Catalogs. It searched through print catalogs for shopping information.

4 Google Finance

Google Finance is a verticle search engine and portal dedicated to stock quotes and financial news. You can search for specific companies, view trends, or keep track of your personal portfolio.

5 Google News

Google News is similar to Google Finance in that it's a content portal as well as a search engine. When you go to the "front page" of Google News, it resembles a newspaper stitched together from a large number of different newspapers. However, Google News also contains information from blogs and other less traditional media sources.

You can customize the layout of Google News, search for specific news items. or set up Google Alerts to be notified of news events on topics of interest to you. (I have a friend who set up a news alert on "gnomes" for example.)

6 Google Trends

Google Trends (previously known as Google Zeitgeist) is a search engine for the search engine. Google Trends measures fluctuations and relative popularity of search terms over time. You can use it to measure general trends (lots of people are talking about Game of Thrones right now) or compare specific search terms over time. In the example image, I compared the relative popularity of "tacos" and "ice cream" over time.

Google also bundles Google Trends information for the year into the Google Zeitgeist report. Here is the report for 2015. Note that "general trends" represent changes in popularity, not a ranking of absolute search volume. Google indicates that the most popular search terms don't actually change much over time, so the trend data sorts out the background noise in order to find search phrases that are different.

Google experimented with a measurement of Google trends to find the spread of the flu, called Google Flu Trends. The project was started in 2008 and did quite well until 2013, when it missed the peak of the flu season by a large margin.

7 Google Flights

Google Flights is a search engine for flight results. You can use it to search and comparison shop between most airlines (some airlines, like Southwest, opt not to participate in results) and filter your searches by airline, price, flight duration, the number of stops, and time of departure or arrival. If this sounds a lot like the sort of thing you can already get on many travel search engines, that's because Google purchased ITA in order to make Google Flights, and that's still the same search engine that powers many of those travel sites today.

8 Google Books

Google Books is a search engine for finding information in print books and a place to find your personal e-book library for any e-books you have uploaded or purchased through your library in Google Play Books. Here's a trick for finding free e-books through Google Books.

9 Google Videos

Google Videos used to be a video uploading service that Google created as a competitor to YouTube. Eventually, Google gave up on the idea of building a full video streaming service from scratch and bought YouTube. They folded the video streaming features from Google Videos into YouTube and relaunched Google Videos as a video search engine.

Google Videos is actually a pretty amazing video search engine. You can find results from YouTube, of course, but you can also find results from Vimeo, Vine, and multiple other streaming video services.

10 Google Custom Search Engine

When all else fails, make your own verticle search engine. Google Custom Search Engine allows you to make your own specialized verticle searches, such as this search engine that only searches information on the google.about.com site.

Google Custom Search Engine results display inline ads, just like standard Google search results. However, you can pay for an upgrade to remove the ads in your custom search engine (such as search engines you create as a web developer to search your own website) or you can opt to share in the profits from the inline ads. (My sample search engine is just the free default and displays ads that do not benefit me.)

Author: Marziah Karch
Source: https://www.lifewire.com/other-search-engines-4039631

WikiLeaks has promised 2017 will be an even bigger year for leaks than 2016, which saw the whistleblowing site publish thousands of documents exposing US political secrets, covert trade deals and private communications from global leaders.

“If you thought 2016 was a big WikiLeaks year, 2017 will blow you away,” WikiLeaks tweeted on Monday, giving no hints as to what may be in store.

The tweet also included a link to its website’s donation page so people can help the site “prepare for the showdown.”

It proved a very busy 2016 for the whistleblowing site, as it delivered a massive trove of documents over the 12-month period.

This included more than 50,000 emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair JohnPodesta and more than 27,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee, which confirmed the DNC worked against Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, favoring Clinton.

More US State Department cables were released, as well as documents which gave an insight into the US arming of Yemen. Text from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) was also revealed.

The emails relating to the US election rocked the Democratic establishment and delivered a blow to the Clinton campaign in the lead-up to the November election.

WikiLeaks also confirmed that founder Julian Assange will take part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Thursday at 14:00 GMT (9am EST). The tweet announcing the AMA contained the hashtag ‘proofoflife’, presumably referencing concerns raised by some for the WikiLeaks editor’s wellbeing.

Author: Julian Assange
Source: https://www.rt.com/news/372550-wikileaks-2017-showdown-leaks

Donald Trump is a huge angry missile-shooting robot battling Mexicans.

That's the concept of a dark, funny and sharply satirical sci-fi short film from Uruguay that millions are watching online.

Titled "M.A.M.O.N. (Monitor Against Mexicans Over Nationwide) Latinos VS. Donald Trump," production company APARATO used computer generated images and visual effects to lambast Trump's position on Mexican immigrants.

BBC Trending spoke with the director, Alejandro Damiani. And you can watch the complete short film here.

Source:  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38186036

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