Science & Tech News

The First Practical Use For Quantum Computers: Chemistry

Slashdot Updates - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 9:34am
"The first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists," writes MIT Technology Review, "trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics." An anonymous reader quotes their report: So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines... "From the point of view of what is theoretically proven, chemistry is ahead," says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer for the IBM division that today sells hardware including supercomputers and hopes to add cloud-hosted quantum computers to its product line-up in the next few years... Researchers have long used simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts. The tactic can reduce time spent on physical experiments and scientific dead ends, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the workload of the world's supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He's looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group's efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage. Microsoft is already focusing on chemistry and materials science in its quantum algorithm effort, saying a hybrid system combining conventional computers with a small quantum computer "has great promise for studying molecules." Meanwhile, the article argues that breaking encryption, "although a genuine threat, is one of the most distant applications of the technology, because the algorithms involved would require an extremely large quantum processor."

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1.6 Billion-Year-Old Plant Fossil Found In India

Slashdot Updates - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 8:34am
Complex multicellular life began 400 million years earlier than we thought, according to a Phys.org article shared by Slashdot reader William Robinson: Scientists found two kinds of fossils resembling red algae in uniquely well-preserved sedimentary rocks at Chitrakoot in central India. One type is thread-like, the other one consists of fleshy colonies. The scientists were able to see distinct inner cell structures and so-called cell fountains, the bundles of packed and splaying filaments that form the body of the fleshy forms and are characteristic of red algae... The oldest known red algae before the present discovery are 1.2 billion years old. The Indian fossils, 400 million years older and by far the oldest plant-like fossils ever found, suggest that the early branches of the tree of life need to be recalibrated.

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Company's Former IT Admin Accused of Accessing Backdoor Account 700+ Times

Slashdot Updates - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 7:34am
An anonymous reader writes: "An Oregon sportswear company is suing its former IT administrator, alleging he left backdoor accounts on their network and used them more than 700 times to search for information for the benefit of its new employer," reports BleepingComputer. Court papers reveal the IT admin left to be the CTO at one of the sportswear company's IT suppliers after working for 14 years at his previous employer. For more than two years, he's [allegedly] been using an account he created before he left to access his former colleagues' emails and gather information about the IT services they might need in the future. The IT admin was fired from his CTO job after his new employer found out what he was doing. One backdoor, which enabled both VPN and VDI connections to the company's network, granted access to a "jmanming" account for a non-existent employee named Jeff Manning...

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The US Army Finally Gets The World's Largest Laser Weapon System

Slashdot Updates - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 6:34am
It's been successfully tested on trucks, as well as UAVs and small rockets, according to a video from Lockheed Martin, which is now shipping the first 60kW-class "beam combined" fiber laser for use by the U.S. Army. An anonymous reader quotes the Puget Sound Business Journal: Lockheed successfully developed and tested the 58 kW laser beam earlier this year, setting a world record for this type of laser. The company is now preparing to ship the laser system to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama [according to Robert Afzal, senior fellow for Lockheed's Laser and Sensor Systems in Bothell]. "We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air..." Laser weapons, which complement traditional kinetic weapons in the battlefield, will one day protect against threats such as "swarms of drones" or a flurry of rockets and mortars, Lockheed said.

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Ask Slashdot: How Would You Implement Site-Wide File Encryption?

Slashdot Updates - Sun, 03/19/2017 - 3:34am
Recently-leaked CIA documents prove that encryption works, according to the Associated Press. But how should sys-admins implement site-wide file encryption? Very-long-time Slashdot reader Pig Hogger writes: If you decide to implement server-level encryption across all your servers, how do you manage the necessary keys/passwords/passphrases to insure that you have both maximum uptime (you can access your data if you need to reboot your servers), yet that the keys cannot be compromised... What are established practices to address this issue? Keep in mind that you can't change your password once the server's been seized, bringing up the issue of how many people know that password. Or is there a better solution? Share you suggestions and experiences in the comments. How would you implement site-wide file encryption?

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Edge, VMWare, Safari, And Ubuntu Linux Hacked at Pwn2Own 2017

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 11:34pm
The 10th annual Pwn2Own hacking competition ended Friday in Vancouver. Some of the highlights: Ars Technica reports one team "compromised Microsoft's heavily fortified Edge browser in a way that escapes a VMware Workstation virtual machine it runs in... by exploiting a heap overflow bug in Edge, a type confusion flaw in the Windows kernel and an uninitialized buffer vulnerability in VMware." Digital Trends reports "Samuel Grob and Niklas Baumstark used a number of logic bugs to exploit the Safari browser and eventually take root control of the MacOS on a MacBook Pro, [and] impressed onlookers even more by adding a custom message to the Touch Bar which read: "pwned by niklasb and saelo."Ubuntu 16.10 Linux was also successfully attacked by exploiting a flaw in the Linux 4.8 kernel, "triggered by a researcher who only had basic user access but was able to elevate privileges with the vulnerability to become the root administrative account user..." reports eWeek. "Chaitin Security Research Lab didn't stop after successfully exploiting Ubuntu. It was also able to successfully demonstrate a chain of six bugs in Apple Safari, gaining root access on macOS."Another attacker "leveraged two separate use-after-free bugs in Microsoft Edge and then escalated to SYSTEM using a buffer overflow in the Windows kernel." None of the attendees registered to attempt an attack on the Apache Web Server on Ubuntu 16.10 Linux, according to eWeek, but the contest's blog reports that "We saw a record 51 bugs come through the program. We paid contestants $833,000 USD in addition to the dozen laptops we handed out to winners. And, we awarded a total of 196 Master of Pwn points."

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RedMonk Identifies 2017's Most Popular Languages: JavaScript, Java, And Python

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 8:34pm
Twice a year the tech analysts at RedMonk attempt to gauge adoption trends for programing languages based on data from both GitHub and Stack Overflow. Here's their top 10 list for 2017: JavaScript, Java, Python, and PHP, followed by a two-way tie between C# and C++, a two-way tie between Ruby and CSS, and then C at #9, and Objective-C at #10. But their GitHub data now counts the number of pull requests rather than the number of repositories. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Swift was a major beneficiary of the new GitHub process, jumping eight spots from 24 to 16 on our GitHub rankings. While the language appears to be entering something of a trough of disillusionment from a market perception standpoint, with major hype giving way to skepticism in many quarters, its statistical performance according to the observable metrics we track remains strong. Swift has reached a Top 15 ranking faster than any other language we have tracked since we've been performing these rankings. Its strong performance from a GitHub perspective suggests that the wider, multi-platform approach taken by the language is paying benefits... Of all of the top tier languages, none jumped more than TypeScript on our GitHub rankings, as the JavaScript superset moved up 17 points.... PowerShell moved from 36 within the GitHub rankings to 19 to match TypeScript's 17 point jump, and that was enough to nudge it into the Top 20 overall from its prior ranking of 25... One of the biggest overall gainers of any of the measured languages, Rust leaped from 47 on our board to 26 â" one spot behind Visual Basic. Swift and Scala and Shell all just missed out on the top 10, clustering in a three-way tie at the #11 spot.

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Google Glass Enters The Manufacturing Sector

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 5:34pm
NPR recently profiled one of the 100 factory workers now using Google Glass at the agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Google Glass tells her what to do should she forget, for example, which part goes where. "I don't have to leave my area to go look at the computer every time I need to look up something," she says. With Google Glass, she scans the serial number on the part she's working on. This brings up manuals, photos or videos she may need. She can tap the side of headset or say "OK Glass" and use voice commands to leave notes for the next shift worker... Peggy Gullick, business process improvement director with AGCO, says the addition of Google Glass has been "a total game changer." Quality checks are now 20 percent faster, she says, and it's also helpful for on-the-job training of new employees... Tiffany Tsai, who writes about technology, says it's one of a growing number of companies -- including General Electric and Boeing -- testing it out... Companies working in the health care, entertainment and energy industries are listed as some of the Google Glass certified partners. AGCO plans to have 200 workers using Google Glass by the end of this year.

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CBS Reports 'Suspicious' Cell Phone Tower Activity In Washington DC

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 3:34pm
"An unusually high amount of suspicious cell phone activity in the nation's capital has caught the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, raising concerns that U.S. officials are being monitored by a foreign entity," reports CBS News: The issue was first reported in the Washington Free Beacon, but a source at telecom security firm ESD America confirmed the spike in suspicious activity to CBS News. ESD America, hired preemptively for a DHS pilot program this January called ESD Overwatch, first noticed suspicious activity around cell phone towers in certain parts of the capital, including near the White House. This kind of activity can indicate that someone is monitoring specific individuals or their devices... According to the ESD America source, the first such spike of activity was in D.C. but there have been others in other parts of the country. Based on the type of technology used, the source continued, it is likely that the suspicious activity was being conducted by a foreign nation. The news coincides with a letter sent to the DHS by two congressmen "deeply concerned" about vulnerabilities in the SS7 protocol underlying U.S. cellular networks, according to an article shared by Slashdot reader Trailrunner7. Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Ted Lieu are asking if the agency has enough resources to address the threat. "Although there have been a few news stories about this topic, we suspect that most Americans simply have no idea how easy it is for a relatively sophisticated adversary to track their movements, tap their calls, and hack their smartphones."

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Court Fines Canadian $26,500 For 'Unconscionably Stupid' Balloon-Chair Flight

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 2:34pm
In 2015, 27-year-old Daniel Boria tied over 100 helium balloons to a lawn chair and floated 2.5 miles above Calgary, "getting in the way of commercial aircraft and putting hundreds of lives at risk," reports the CBC. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Boria was ordered to pay $26,500 [USD $18,822] in fines when he was sentenced Friday, after pleading guilty in December to dangerous operation of an aircraft for the 2015 stunt... In handing down the sentence provincial court Judge Bruce Fraser called Boria's stunt "dumb and dangerous" and "unconscionably stupid. There was nothing fantastic, fun or exhilarating about it... There is no precedent for so foolish an escapade"... On July 5, 2015, Boria tied $13,000 worth of industrial-sized balloons to a Canadian Tire lawn chair and took to the skies to promote his cleaning company, with the plan to parachute into the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. Uncooperative weather forced him to bail early, and winds pushed his landing to Ogden Road, where he was arrested by police who had been monitoring Boria since he was spotted above the Stampede grounds... During the time he was in the air, 24 airplanes took off and landed in Calgary. The judge agreed that $20,000 of the fine should be donated to a charity of Boria's choice, and later Boria "said the stunt was worthwhile and he has no regrets."

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China's Police Will Shoot Illegal Drones With Radio-Jamming Rifles

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 1:34pm
"Police in China are being equipped with new high-tech weaponry to help them fight back against illegal drone use," writes new submitter drunkdrone. Mashable reports: A Chinese city's police department is arming itself with more than 20 drone-jamming rifles...which work by emitting radio signals that force the drones to land, purportedly without damaging them. The drone-killing rifles will be used during the upcoming 2017 Wuhan Marathon, to raise security. Wuhan police demonstrated the drone-killing rifles last week, where they shot down six drones, according to the Chutian Metropolitan Daily. Each rifle costs $36,265, and has a range of 0.6 miles.

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Tech Billionaires Invest In Linking Brains To Computers

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 12:34pm
"To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web," including Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk. An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which plowed money into new schemes for recording neurons. That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a "high-fidelity" brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time... According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called "neural lace," which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to "symbiosis with machines." And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day be able to share "full sensory and emotional experiences," not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division. Elon Musk complains that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are "ridiculously slow".

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Bruce Schneier Calls for IoT Legislation, Argues The Internet Is Becoming One Giant Robot

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 11:34am
"We're building a world-size robot, and we don't even realize it," security expert Bruce Schneier warned the Open Source Leadership Summit. As mobile computing and always-on devices combine with the various network-connected sensors, actuators, and cloud-based AI processing, "We are building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts." An anonymous reader quotes Linux.com: You can think of it, he says, as an Internet that affects the world in a direct physical manner. This means Internet security becomes everything security. And, as the Internet physically affects our world, the threats become greater. "It's the same computers, it could be the same operating systems, the same apps, the same vulnerability, but there's a fundamental difference between when your spreadsheet crashes, and you lose your data, and when your car crashes and you lose your life," Schneier said... "I have 20 IoT-security best-practices documents from various organizations. But the primary barriers here are economic; these low-cost devices just don't have the dedicated security teams and patching/upgrade paths that our phones and computers do. This is why we also need regulation to force IoT companies to take security seriously from the beginning. I know regulation is a dirty word in our industry, but when people start dying, governments will take action. I see it as a choice not between government regulation and no government regulation, but between smart government regulation and stupid government regulation."

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Google's New Campus Will Open Its Restaurants To The Public

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 10:34am
Google's new 18-acre campus will feature a 595,000-square foot building for 2,400 employees, most of them engineers -- and its bottom floor will be open to the public. An anonymous reader quotes Recode: People will be able to walk through the middle of the building, where they can shop in retail stores and dine at cafes also frequented by Googlers... A summary of plans from Google also describes spaces for workshops and demonstrations of new technologies such as virtual reality. Visitors might encounter a pop-up store devoted to virtual reality or demonstrations of smart-home devices made by Alphabet subsidiary Nest, according to the spokesperson... This is the first time Google has built a campus from the ground up... Generally speaking, Bay Area tech companies have tended to of cut their workplaces off from the communities surrounding them. Employees take private buses to their campuses, and stay on-site for non-work activities like meals in private cafeterias and exercise classes. Google offers similar amenities to its employees, but makes its open, grassy areas open to anyone. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Google's new building will be "shaped to resemble a puffy white cloud, with solar panels on the roof... The campus also will have a plaza where the public can soak in performances."

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Some HTTPS Inspection Tools Actually Weaken Security

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 9:34am
America's Department of Homeland Security issued a new warning this week. An anonymous reader quotes IT World: Companies that use security products to inspect HTTPS traffic might inadvertently make their users' encrypted connections less secure and expose them to man-in-the-middle attacks, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team warns. US-CERT, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, published an advisory after a recent survey showed that HTTPS inspection products don't mirror the security attributes of the original connections between clients and servers. "All systems behind a hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) interception product are potentially affected," US-CERT said in its alert. Slashdot reader msm1267 quotes Threatpost: HTTPS inspection boxes sit between clients and servers, decrypting and inspecting encrypted traffic before re-encrypting it and forwarding it to the destination server... The client cannot verify how the inspection tool is validating certificates, or whether there is an attacker positioned between the proxy and the target server.

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Could We Eliminate Spam With DMARC?

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 8:34am
An anonymous reader writes: "The spam problem would not only be significantly reduced, it'd probably almost go away," argues Paul Edmunds, the head of technology from the cybercrimes division of the U.K.'s National Crime Agency -- suggesting that more businesses should be using DMARC, an email validation system that uses both the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). "Edmunds argued, if DMARC was rolled out everywhere in order to verify if messages come from legitimate domains, it would be a major blow to spam distributors and take a big step towards protecting organizations from this type of crime..." reports ZDNet. "However, according to a recent survey by the Global Cyber Alliance, DMARC isn't widely used and only 15% of cybersecurity vendors themselves are using DMARC to prevent email spoofing. Earlier this month America's FTC also reported that 86% of major online businesses used SPF to help ISPs authenticate their emails -- but fewer than 10% have implemented DMARC.

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Researchers Build An AI That's Better At Reading Lips Than Humans

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 7:34am
An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: Scientists at Oxford say they've invented an artificial intelligence system that can lip-read better than humans. The system, which has been trained on thousands of hours of BBC News programs, has been developed in collaboration with Google's DeepMind AI division. "Watch, Attend and Spell", as the system has been called, can now watch silent speech and get about 50% of the words correct. That may not sound too impressive - but when the researchers supplied the same clips to professional lip-readers, they got only 12% of words right... The system now recognizes 17,500 words, and one of the researchers says, "As it keeps watching TV, it will learn."

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Physicists Find That As Clocks Get More Precise, Time Gets More Fuzzy

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 6:34am
Physicists "have combined two grand theories of physics to conclude not only is time not universally consistent, any clock we use to measure it will blur the flow of time in its surrounding space." An anonymous reader quotes ScienceAlert: A team of physicists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have applied quantum mechanics and general relativity to argue that increasing the precision of measurements on clocks in the same space also increases their warping of time... [W]hile the theories are both supported by experiments, they usually don't play well together, forcing physicists to consider a new theory that will allow them both to be correct at the same time... In this case, the physicists hypothesized the act of measuring time in greater detail requires the possibility of increasing amounts of energy, in turn making measurements in the immediate neighborhood of any time-keeping devices less precise. "Our findings suggest that we need to re-examine our ideas about the nature of time when both quantum mechanics and general relativity are taken into account," says researcher Esteban Castro. The article opens with the statement that "time is weird," noting that despite our own human-centric expectations, "the Universe doesn't have a master clock to run by."

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Chimp filmed cleaning a corpse’s teeth in a mortuary-like ritual

New Scientist - Breaking news - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 6:00am
The never-before-seen behaviour suggests that chimpanzees can be curious about death and may shed light on the origins of human mortuary practices
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US Lawmakers Propose Minimum Seat Sizes For Airlines

Slashdot Updates - Sat, 03/18/2017 - 5:34am
The size of each passenger's seat on an airplane -- as well as the distance between rows of seats -- should be standardized, according to legislation proposed by two American lawmakers. Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes Consumerist: The text of the bill does not specify any dimensions for seat widths or legroom. Rather, if the legislation is passed, the particulars would be left up to the FAA to sort out... Though seat size may vary from airline to airline, Cohen notes that the average distance between rows of seats has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s, to around 31 inches today. Your backside is getting the squeeze, as well, as the average width of an airline seat has also shrunk from 18 inches to about 16.5 inches.

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