Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Behavioral Biometrics: The Death of Passwords?

Soon, your computer may know you better than you do.
By Russell Miles

The Problem with Passwords

Do you find it difficult to remember all of your passwords for your favorite Web sites? Do you use the same password for everything, potentially putting yourself at risk? Even if you do everything right, password-based security can be vulnerable to hacking, as evidenced by large-scale breaches of Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Sony's Playstation Network.

No matter what you do, passwords can cause some serious frustration. Thankfully, a new field of technology known as behavioral biometrics may turn traditional passwords into a thing of the past. The way that this new tech works may be hard for you to believe.

What is Biometric Security?

An iris scanner identifies you based on the unique pattern in your eye (image source).

In general, "biometrics" refers to the process of identifying people based on their unique characteristics. You've probably seen biometrics in countless spy and sci-fi movies. When a spy scans their eyes, their face, their hand, or their fingerprint to gain access to a secret base, they are using biometric technology. These parts of the body are completely unique to each person, so they make for good security tools.

Today, biometrics are more than just science fiction. Fingerprint scanners have been used on consumer laptops for over a decade, and have recently been added to mobile phones. It is suspected that Apple is adding facial or iris recognition to the new iPhone 8, allowing users to unlock their phones simply by looking at them.

However, the field of behavioral biometrics may offer a solution that is even easier than a fingerprint scan. Soon, you may be able to unlock your device just by being yourself.

What is Behavioral Biometrics?

The way that you type and scroll can say a lot about you (image source).

Unlike other biometric technologies, behavioral biometrics does not require any swipes or scans. It doesn't measure your body --  it measures the way that you act.

Maybe you take longer than others to switch between keys, or you scroll at a certain speed. According to the developers of this technology, each person's style of typing is completely unique. By monitoring a person's habits, behavioral biometric computer programs can distinguish between people based on the way that they type and scroll. With this technology, simply using your computer could allow you to unlock it.

Watch this video and this video explaining IBM's Trusteer security software, which identifies fraud using mouse movement patterns. Watch behavioral biometrics in action, as it secures a bank account even though a "hacker" knows the password.

Advantages of Behavioral Biometrics

"Someone can steal your password, but they cannot steal your behavior (image source)."

It may be difficult to believe, but this type of security is stronger than a traditional password. In an interview with MarketWatch, BioCatch executive Eyal Goldwerger said that "Someone can steal your password, but they cannot steal your behavior." This is a powerful argument for this technology, as a password can be stolen much more easily than an entire set of habits.

Still, most people are suspicious of this new technology. For this reason, the majority of behavioral biometrics programs are used alongside a traditional password as a second line of defense against hacking.

Can your Behavior be Hacked?

Automated scripts can record and mimic your typing behavior (image source).

Just like all other forms of security, this technology is not perfect. Automated typing scripts, which learn and mimic your typing style, can be used to "hack" your behavior. Thankfully, developers insist that these scripts are easy to detect based on their precise, robotic inputs. Regardless of any risk, monitoring and reproducing human activity is certainly harder than stealing a password.

Much more troubling is that a change in your computer habits could lock you out of your account. Gradual changes are fine, but a sudden change such as a broken hand could make your computer think that you are someone else. If you decide to transition from a slow, pointer-finger typing method to a two-handed method, you could also have some issues. This problem has to be addressed before behavioral biometrics can enter the mainstream consumer market.

What do you think?

Would you trust your security with a behavioral biometrics program? Do you think this technology will catch on with everyday consumers, or will its issues hold it back? Comment below with your opinion of this technology.

If you want to learn about automated typing scripts, or want to experiment with reprogramming your keyboard, check out our tutorial on AutoHotkey. It won't teach you how to hack anyone, but it could help you make your computer more convenient.

Like most other A.I. systems, behavioral biometrics programs use neural networks. Read more about how neural networks allow computers to learn in our previous article.

Keep reading for more tech news. Try to learn how to type before behavioral biometrics hits, and don't break your hand!

Works Cited

Carter, Jamie. "Behavioural Biometrics – the Future of Security." TechRadar. TechRadar Pro IT
Insights for Business, 09 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 May 2017.

Paul, Kari. "This Technology Could Kill Passwords and Even Fingerprint Sensors."MarketWatch.
MarketWatch Inc., 02 May 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Viruses? Malware? Ransomware?

By Matt Nixon

Many children, parents, and internet users alike constantly worry about getting “viruses” on their computers, however many don’t know the different types of computer infections and how to genuinely prevent and dispose of them. Often times viruses can be a lot more than just a minor computer problem, entire bank accounts, identity, passwords, and any personal information you have can be stolen off of your computer.

What are the different types of viruses and malwares?
Some of the most common viruses are browser hijackers, directory viruses, trojans, memory resident viruses, and overwrite viruses. The most common malwares are adwares, bots, ransomware, rootkits, worms, and spyware. These are all different types of only the most frequent viruses and malwares, there are still more out there and it’s very easy for you to get them if you aren’t protected. For more information about these different types, refer to the link below: https://www.veracode.com/blog/2012/10/common-malware-types-cybersecurity-101

What’s the difference between malware and a virus?
It’s very common for people to use the words interchangeably which is not the case at all actually, in fact a virus is just a type of malware and isn’t nearly as severe as most malware. The word malware itself essentially means bad software, its purpose is to steal information, steal passwords and accounts, destroy or break programs and computers systems, and holding your computer hostage.

So then what does a virus do?
A virus is a type of malware that when it gets into your computer it self replicates and spreads itself throughout as much of your files as it can. Viruses can also use one computer to spread to other computers on the same networks. A virus most often comes in a downloaded file or spam email. The best way to prevent getting a virus like this is having a good malware AND virus protection program. However if you can’t afford that it's best to not open emails you aren’t expecting and only using safe and trusted websites.

What are the most dangerous types of malware?
Many malwares and viruses are just there to corrupt your files, which isn’t ideal but it’s a solvable problem, however some can do some real damage, life changing and potentially life destroying. The simplest of these is simply having your accounts stolen, passwords cracked, and messages intercepted. Again this is not ideal but it’s another solvable problem. The real dangerous waters are keyloggers and ransomware, These are types of malware that are typically injected into illegally downloaded files or clickbait emails. Ransomware is something that has been around for a long time, however more recently due to an unknown hacking group discovering a key flaw in the windows OS that allows this malware to thrive. Ransomware essentially holds your computer ransom for anywhere between $300-$1000 and there is still no sure way to stop the malware. Keyloggers can be used in many ways, to see messages, passwords, and most importantly credit card numbers or your SSN. This mean you must always practice safety on the internet because having your bank account emptied or your identity stolen can lead you to a whole other world of bad.

Works Cited
"Ransomware." Ransomware Facts - Microsoft Malware Protection Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.
What Are Malware, Viruses, Spyware, and Cookies, and What Differentiates Them ? | Symantec Connect. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.

Image citations
Photo 1: Article by Jeffrey Esposito 72 Posts  'Unless Someone like You Cares a Whole Awful Lot, Nothing Is Going to Get Better. It's Not.' ~ The Lorax. "Kaspersky Lab Official Blog." Daily – English – Global – Blog.kaspersky.com. N.p., 03 May 2016. Web. 26 May 2017.
Photo 2:Russon, Mary-Ann. "Malware in Chinese Made Tablets." International Business Times UK. N.p., 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.
Photo 3:"Computer Viruses." BrainPOP. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2017.
Photo 4:"Memory Scrapers, Keyloggers, and Sniffers Oh My!" SecurityMetrics Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2017.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Neural Networks: Teaching Computers to Teach Themselves

Neural Networks: Teaching Computers to Teach Themselves
Computer-generated music and much more!
By Russell Miles

Computers have become increasingly powerful over the past few decades. These devices can store many terabytes of data, solve math problems instantly, and win games of chess against the most skilled grandmasters. However, until recently, humans and computers have been separated by one fundamental trait: the ability to learn. Today, through the use of neural network technology, computers are able to learn through a process of trial and error just like we do.

History of Neural Networks

Model of a neuron (image source).

Believe it or not, the first neural network was actually invented in order to help explain the human brain. In 1943, neuroscientist Warren McCulloch and mathematician Walter Pitts built a simple electrical circuit to demonstrate how human neurons work. Today, McCulloch-Pitts (or MCP) neurons are used in all sorts of computer programs. They take in information from other neurons and send a yes- or no-signal based on this information. When stringed together, MCP neurons can allow computers to make complex decisions. This video explains how they work.

Like a hedge artist trims plants into shapes, the brain trims its neurons as it absorbs information (image source).

For humans and computers, learning takes a lot of practice. Although artificial neurons existed in the early days of computing, they did not catch on until much later. This is because a huge amount of data is needed to "train" a neural network. First, programmers enter a large amount of data for the neural network to read. Next, the computer uses the data to start "guessing" at how to solve a specific problem posed by the programmers. After each guess, the program will slowly improve by editing and trimming its neurons.  

For any skill, practice makes perfect (image source).

If this process sounds familiar, it's because you do it every day. When practicing a skill or solving a problem, you take in your surroundings, try new things, make minor changes, and then try again. This artist started out with very little knowledge of the craft, but they were able to improve by drawing many pictures. Neural networks follow a similar process, starting out with random, poor-quality results and eventually working towards a useful solution. To understand the impact of neural networks, we will have to look at some examples.


Images taken from the following video.

In this video, designers created 3D frameworks for a variety of creatures. Using a neural network, a computer built muscle structures based on a desired walking speed for the creatures. At this point, you can see that the computer's first few designs failed spectacularly. However, after lots of practice and nine-hundred and twenty failed designs, the computer created a design that can walk like a human. Later on, the designers add some more variables and creatures into the mix.

Classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach (image source).

This video shows the training of a neural network using the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Hundreds of MIDI files of Bach's piano pieces were fed to a network which rearranges the notes into a piano piece. On the first try, the program only plays one note before stopping. After 100 iterations, the network seems to be playing notes at random. After tens of thousands of tries, the compositions finally start to resemble classical music. If someone with no knowledge of music wanted to teach themself to play like Bach, this is what the process might sound like. For more detailed information about this process, as well as several computer-generated piano compositions, check out the full report here.

Images altered using Dreamscope (Original image in top left).

If you don't want to pay an artist to make pop-art paintings of your cat, you can use an online neural network program. Dreamscope is free, and allows you to turn any image into a work of art. This program, and others like it, look for patterns in your image that are similar to patterns within a chosen filter image. After scanning for the first time, the neural network will continue to scan for similar patterns until they are found. This allows the computer to intelligently shade each part of an image. Learn more about pattern recognition in neural networks here.

More Resources

If these examples of neural networks excite you, check out these links for more interesting uses of the technology.

Evolution of aquatic robots -- A video about optimizing aquatic animal designs.

Google's Computers are Making Thousands as Artists -- Fortune article about the sale of computer-generated art.

Inside an Artificial Brain -- Trippy and terrifying visuals created by a neural network using source images of dogs, lizards and other things.

Two Minute Papers -- An interesting YouTube channel focusing on A.I. and computer graphics.

DeepLearning.TV -- An educational video series about neural networks and A.I. in general.

Thank you for reading. Keep following for more informational posts and updates on recent trends in technology.

Works Cited

Marsalli, Michael. "The Mind Project." McCulloch-Pitts Neurons (Overview). National Science
Foundation Grants, n.d. Web. 02 May 2017.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Technology And Economics in Sichuan Province, China

How China is using international partnerships and advanced technology to compete in a competitive global market

By Thomas Jeffrey

The words Sino-German are proudly emblazoned on the royal red containers handed to us as we exit the dusky industrial park.  Upon opening the aluminum to examine the contents, I am immediately taken aback, for a tooth lays nestled before me.  Not a real tooth I come to realize, but a delicately designed and manicured 3D printed piece of the future.  Hand crafted by the generous employees of DT Dental, one of the world’s, let alone Chengdu’s, premier orthodontic technologists. I admire the piece all the way back to my hotel.  
18403630_123732518187860_2718865412701726156_n.jpgThe significance of Sino-German is realized in the story of China’s economy some forty years ago.  Following significant market reforms in 1978, China has slowly worked its way up into one of the largest economic powers of the world.  Hard workers, intelligent craftsman, and cheap labor drew many foreign investors to China.  In this spirit, DT Dental was founded in 1995 to take advantage of recent German technology to manufacture high quality dentures at affordable prices.  
18402681_123732468187865_7189988670779919873_n.jpgUsing cutting edge 3D Design Programs, printers, and painting techniques, DT Dental is able to make an astonishingly real product.  See the recent blog post by Russell Miles to learn more on the different kinds of 3D printers, all of which are used to some extent at DT Dental, including, but not limited to, Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering, and Selective Laser Melting.  
Factory floor employees, some of whom are only sixteen or seventeen years old, take advantage of many of the same tools available to us in the Hack Shack right now.  Coming from some of the poorest families in the greater Chengdu area, DT Dental utilizes Confucius teachings to gives these kids the tools they need to succeed in the professional world.  
This system, which teaches the kids respect to parents, critical thinking, and financial literacy, actually better prepares them for fulfilling lives and careers than many of the local public schools could do, according to Chengdu native, Rubio Dan.  To many westerners, the idea of beginning one’s professional life at just sixteen is heartbreaking, but to these children, it is a dream come true.  
DT Dental is admittedly an unusual business in China today.  Not many choose to pay for all room and board for their employees.  Even fewer decide to respect them enough to treat them like family and place values above overall profit, but they do.  Much of this ability to conduct business in this way is attributed to the high degree of technology that they use, which increases productivity and quality immensely.  The truth is that these kinds of highly skilled jobs better prepare workers to either move up the corporate ladder, or attain greater financial independence for themselves in the future.