Data, robots and computer-burglars – do you know what’s hotter than the summer in your city?
Hey fellow-sleep-walkers. Yes, pardon the insult, but most of us are happily lost, with our shoulders hunched and our thumbs sacrificed, in our own la-la lands while the White-Walkers from these very lands are inching closer. Technology is a great friend, aid, accelerator and amplifier but we need to be prudent and precise about its use, lest it turns into something opposite. A lot has been happening past the walls we live in and it’s always better to smell the winter before it slithers inside our happy and clueless worlds. So let’s take a break from those Good-Morning messages on WhatsApp; and do a crash-jog of what has been brewing while we all were, err, sleeping. We start, of course, with jolts less obvious than the Facebook-Data-scandal. We assume you are smarter than that already.
Ok, hop in folks!
- You have been crypto-jacked?
So far, when you heard of a virus or a bug on a computer, it usually stopped at asking for ransom or the system hanging up or data getting stolen. But as weird as it may sound, today hackers are hijacking computers for something odd- to JUST use their processing/compute-muscle. Two new trends, bitcoin and blockchain (the first one you may have heard of though – if your friends are good show-offs) are to be blamed here. What happens is this- to make these virtual technologies run, scale and to earn this crypto-wealth, one has to mine blocks (we will spare you the gory details, but just understand that it needs a lot of computing estate). So some not-so-discreet miners go ahead and tap someone else’s computer through backhand tactics and mine crypto-currencies. All the victim needs to do is click on a bad link or download something that is actually a crypto-code through an infected website or file or even online ads that can auto-execute bad codes.
Imagine – some 644,000 computers being found infected with crypto-mining malware between September 2017 and January 2018 alone! And as many as 55 per cent organisations being affected with this silent threat! The worst thing – the infected user never/seldom comes to know that his/her system and electricity are being used by a sly miner sitting miles away. While such hacks do not steal any data or cause any dents to one’s computer, they do use its power and time without the user’s knowledge. Just recently, half a million machines were infected with a crypto-mining botnet in India, Russia and Taiwan.
Companies with a bigger pile of computing resources than individual users are more prone to this risk, but it’s always better to have sturdy security-measures in place, watch out for iffy websites, manage browser-extensions carefully and install ad-blockers if you can. That is, until we sort out the ethics and economics of this practice or unless you don’t mind someone mining your computer’s idle power as long as you don’t have to see an annoying ad instead.
- The power of speech – Online?
So I&B Minister Smriti Irani started mulling extending traditional broadcasting rules and restrictions to the Internet; and consequently, drew ire and petitions from several journalists and content-creators (imagine AIB’s Tanmay and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta being on the same page for once). Why does this matter? Well, freedom of speech vs. the dangers of too many trolls and idiots harming peace. The power of Internet vs. the ways people end up abusing it. Being Indian with the gift of democracy or being gagged like they do in some countries. Decide for yourself.
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ib9x5hWKaw https://www.thequint.com/news/india/journalists-pen-letter-to-smriti-irani-over-online-media-regulation
- Forget Fakes. Get ready for Deep-fakes
Very soon it would be nigh impossible to make out whether the politician or celebrity saying or doing something in a video is real or fake. Studying such new extremes of Digital-forgery is what is keeping MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the USA) guys occupied these days and for a good reason. If watching Sushant Singh rub shoulders with Sachin and Yuvraj during the epic World Cup in the movie M.S.Dhoni made you wonder how fast and fluid technology has become, you may find yourself completely helpless when AI mixes reality and fiction in hard-to-spot ways. It can be fun – better video games. But what if it’s fun for the not-so-good guys – people who will not stop at twisting elections and minds?
- When was the last time you got your phone-umm-repaired?
Probably, a zillion years ago. It’s not your fault (or may be, it is, in some way) that it’s easier to throw off one phone for the next glitzy model instead of fixing it. Most phones these days are nothing but boxes where even the sight of a battery is as impossible as watching Kardashian reading Hemingway (although, one can always hope). But do we know that it’s not just phones but almost every other machine that companies are dishing out these days – cars, tractors, laptops , everything. So some people and activists are not going to take this lack of freedom ‘to repair what one buys and owns’ sitting down. They are fighting against it and quite furiously. Should you be second-guessing why you can’t open your Smartphone and why its expiry date is suddenly so close?
- Robot Tax – well, not what we thought
If robots are supposed to take away our jobs, what about the concept of a Robot-tax? If you ask the UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs, the brains there would not be too excited about it. In a fresh report, the institute has contended how calls for a ‘robot tax’ to mitigate for a ‘robocalypse’ are misguided and how complicated such a policy-measure could get. It’s too early to panic over robots stealing our jobs or to hope they would give more money.
Or so it sounds?
So, there you are – awake and alert. That really helps when one is fighting invisible enemies. Information is, after all, just the Valyrian steel that we need in times when most walls, that our grandparents enjoyed and preserved, have crumbled, thanks to our new-age addictions. But as we saw with GDPR finally coming to life; and with that, respect for user-privacy rights and responsible use of data gaining steam; one can always win as long as one is awake when needed. Do that every now and then.
Don’t just say that ‘Good Morning’. Feel it. Make it so.