Posts Tagged ‘computer’

Digital heart attack

April 11th, 2014

THE Heartbleed bug sounds like a nasty coronary condition. But it is in fact a software flaw that has left up to two-thirds of the world’s websites vulnerable to attack by hackers. “This is potentially the most dangerous bug that we have seen for a long, long time,” says James Beeson, the chief information security officer of GE Capital Americas, an arm of GE. Since its existence was revealed on April 7th by researchers at Codenomicon, a security outfit, and Google, countless companies around the world that rely on the internet for part or all of their business have been scrambling to fix the flaw.

Ironically, the bug was discovered in OpenSSL, encryption software that was designed to make the internet more secure. Available free, this open-source code is popular with businesses and governments, which use it to help secure everything from online credit-card transactions to public services. On April 9th, for instance, Canada’s tax authority shut off public access to its online services while it checked the security of its systems in the light of news about the bug.

The flaw makes it possible for hackers to trick a server into spewing out data held in its memory. OpenSSL has a feature known as a “heartbeat” that allows a computer at one end of an encrypted link to send occasional signals to the computer at the other end of it, to check that it is still online. The researchers discovered that a hacker with knowledge of the bug could replicate this signal and use it to steal all manner of data from a remote computer.

Those data could include encryption keys that let hackers decipher traffic. To make matters worse, the researchers found that the bug, which is present in some versions of OpenSSL that have been available since March 2012, allows attacks to be mounted without leaving a trace in targeted computers’ “server logs”, so victims are unaware their systems have been compromised. That means it is impossible to tell for sure what damage has been done.

The bug has forced companies to find out fast how many of their systems employ the vulnerable versions of OpenSSL. “Everyone knows they have to patch their customer-facing internet websites, but that is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Jonathan Sander of STEALTHbits Technologies, a security firm that is helping one of America’s biggest banks work out where it has deployed the buggy software. Web-connected systems that handle things such as accounting and personnel data will also need to be checked for the bug.

Mr Sander likens the discovery of the Heartbleed bug to finding a faulty part in nearly every make and model of car. The problem is that the internet cannot be recalled. Big web companies such as Google and Yahoo have moved fast to deal with the bug. But millions of smaller e-commerce sites and other businesses face the worrying prospect of being attacked by hackers alerted to the bug’s existence as the firms race to fix the problem.

The cure includes applying a software “patch” and then choosing new encryption keys to replace those that may have been compromised. Once this has been done, customers will often need to change their passwords too. Tumblr, a blogging service owned by Yahoo, has urged its users to change the passwords they use for all of the secure online services that hold sensitive data about them. Some companies even chose to suspend services while they were working on a fix. Bitstamp, a Bitcoin e-currency exchange, temporarily suspended new account registrations and logins to its existing accounts.

Another Y2 K?

Perhaps the risk posed by the Heartbleed bug will turn out to be overblown. But if it emerges that companies’ systems have indeed been hacked because of it, this could open a legal can of worms. Firms could argue that they ought not to be punished for using widely trusted security software. But aggrieved customers—and their lawyers—may see things differently.

Quite how the bug got into the OpenSSL software in the first place is a mystery. Bruce Schneier, an internet-security expert, argues in a blog post that “the probability is close to one” that intelligence agencies have exploited the glitch to nab the encryption keys needed to decipher information about their targets. His guess is that the glitch is the result of a coding error rather than the handiwork of spies, though he says he cannot be sure.

No matter who is to blame, this episode is another reminder of the security challenges companies face as ever more economic activity shifts online. According to eMarketer, a research outfit, worldwide business-to-consumer e-commerce sales are likely to grow by just over a fifth this year, to $1.5 trillion. That is a huge commercial opportunity, but it will also encourage cyber-crooks to target businesses even more vigorously. Expect more computer-security heartburn in boardrooms.

Source:http://www.economist.com/news/business/21600691-flaw-popular-internet-security-software-could-have-serious-consequences-all-sorts

Software uses big data to battle forgetting

February 3rd, 2014

Computer software similar to that used by online retailers to recommend products to a shopper can help students remember the content they’ve studied, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The software, created by computer scientists at CU-Boulder’s Institute for Cognitive Science, works by tapping a database of past student performance to suggest what material an individual student most needs to review.

For example, the software might know that a student who forgot one particular concept but remembered another three weeks after initially learning them is likely to need to review a third concept six weeks after it was taught. When a student who fits that profile uses the software, the computer can pull up the most useful review questions.

“If you have two students with similar study histories for specific material, and one student couldn’t recall the answer, it’s a reasonable predictor that the other student won’t be able to either, especially when you take into consideration the different abilities of the two students,” said CU-Boulder Professor Michael Mozer, senior author of the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

The process of combing “big data” for performance clues is similar to strategies used by e-commerce sites, Mozer said.

“They know what you browsed and didn’t buy and what you browsed and bought,” Mozer said. “They measure your similarity to other people and use purchases of similar people to predict what you might want to buy. If you substitute ‘buying’ with ‘recalling,’ it’s the same thing.”

The program is rooted in theories that psychologists have developed about the nature of forgetting. Researchers know that knowledge—whether of facts, concepts or skills—slips away without review, and that spacing the review out over time is crucial to obtaining robust and durable memories.

Still, it’s uncommon for students to do the kind of extended review that favors long-term retention. Students typically review material that was presented only in the most recent unit or chapter—often in preparation for a quiz—without reviewing previous units or chapters at the same time.

This leads to rapid forgetting, even for the most motivated learners, Mozer said. For example, a recent study found that medical students forget roughly 25 to 35 percent of basic science knowledge after one year and more than 50 percent by the next year.

Over the last decade, Mozer has worked with University of California, San Diego, psychologist Harold Pashler, also a co-author of the new study, to create a computer model that could predict how spaced review affects memory. The new computer program described in the study is an effort to make practical use of that model.

Robert Lindsey, a CU-Boulder doctoral student collaborating with Mozer, built the personalized review program and then tested it in a middle school Spanish class.

For the study, Lindsey and Mozer divided the material students were learning into three groups. For material in a “massed” group, the students were drilled only on the current chapter. For material in a “generic-spaced” group, the students were drilled on the most recent two chapters. For material in a “personalized-spaced” group, the algorithm determined what material from the entire semester each student would benefit most from reviewing.

In a cumulative test taken a month after the semester’s end, personalized-spaced review boosted remembering by 16.5 percent over massed study and by 10 percent over generic-spaced review.
In a follow-up experiment, Mozer and his colleagues compared their personalized review program to a program that randomly quizzes students on all units that have been covered so far. Preliminary results show that the personalized program also outperforms random reviews of all past material.
So far, the program has been tested only in foreign language classes, but Mozer believes the program could be helpful for improving retention in a wide range of disciplines, including math skills.

It’s not necessary to have a prior database of student behavior to implement the personalized review program. Students can begin by using the program as a traditional review tool that asks random questions, and as students answer, the computer begins to search for patterns in the answers. “It doesn’t take long to get lots and lots of data,” Mozer said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the McDonnell Foundation.

Source:http://scienceblog.com/70079/software-uses-big-data-to-battle-forgetting/

A look at computer software importance to ag

January 16th, 2014

An expanding global population, shrinking farm land, and environmental sustainability goals are driving farmers to grow record crops through innovative farming systems using innovative products and equipment. PTC announced that Great Plains Manufacturing is using PTC computer software to design and build equipment that is helping feed the world by assisting farmers in increasing crop yields.

PTC Creo is a scalable suite of design software being used by Great Plains and shows how advancements in almost every aspect of agriculture has computer software somewhere in the improvements.

Randy Jones, engineering system administration, Great Plains Manufacturing, sums up the value of PTC Creo, “We’re designing products that we wouldn’t have dreamed of before PTC Creo. It’s not just a question of how much faster we are, it wouldn’t have been possible to design them at all.”

PTC noted some facts about world food and feed production. “More than 90 percent of all the crops and livestock we consume (and livestock feed) is produced by agroecosystems, which are created and maintained by humans (They do not naturally occur.). Agroecosystems cover 28 percent of the earth’s land area, excluding Greenland and Antarctica. World population has grown from 3 billion to 6 billion since 1961 – these agroecosystems provide 24 percent more food per person today than they did in 1961. The world population is expected to increase by another 1.7 billion in the next 20 years. We need more food, and more efficient ways of getting that food.”

Great Plains standardized on PTC technology for all stages of product development including concept, detailing, simulation, documentation and production. The software has enabled the company to deliver its largest grain drill—the 3S-5000—three times faster than previously able.

Great Plains Manufacturing, one of the largest privately held manufacturers of farm equipment for the past 40 years, develops agricultural equipment for seedbed preparation, nutrient application and seeding placement, all key to helping farmers grow higher yields economically.

Source:http://www.agprofessional.com/news/A-look-at-computer-software-importance-to-ag-240298951.html

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