Computer Science

HUMMINGBAD MALWARE COULD BE A GATEWAY FOR ADDITIONAL ROOTKITS
August 12, 2016 9:12 am

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community recently about a particularly bad piece of Android malware called HummingBad. The malware infects Android phones when users accidentally download a malicious third-party app, or opt for an unverifiable download on a website which comes loaded with the HummingBad package.

Once HummingBad has infected the device, it establishes a persistent rootkit and takes over its native functions.  According to Check Point, an I.T. security company, once HummingBad has infected a device it can install fraudulent apps and even generate false revenue by tricking users into clicking fake ads and links. Check Point estimated that HummingBad was able to yield cyber-criminals nearly $300,000 a month, through this process of click fraud.

The group effectively controls an arsenal of over 85 million mobile devices around the world. – Check Point

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These types of click fraud campaigns are common, although often not as financially successful, and can present real issues when it comes to security. Rootkits are packets of malware that establish themselves at the core of the device, or “root,” and they are dangerous because they often hide their existence by maintaining the appearance of something that is not harmful. 

Many people whose devices have been infected with this type of malware are entirely unaware that they are being victimized by a cyber-attack, while at the same time their information is being stolen and sold to the highest bidder.

According to Check Point, the dangers of these types of malware go beyond individual users. Malware packages like HummingBad could be used to target government agencies and businesses. 

Emboldened by financial and technological independence, [cybercriminals’] skillsets will advance putting end users, enterprises, and government agencies at risk. – Check Point

According to Check Point, this malware attack was part of an elaborate scheme by the Chinese Yingmob, in which the malware was sending notifications to the Umeng tracking and analytics service.  Devices have been infected world-wide, with the primary number of infected users in China.

Malware attacks like this that rely on click fraud and that are money-generating are certainly dangerous, but what is perhaps even more frightening is the potential that these rootkits, and the access to your device, has the potential to be sold.  We are entering a time when access to certain peoples’ or companies’ device root is a highly valued black-market commodity.

“Check Point believes this dangerous trend will escalate as other groups learn from Yingmob and find new ways to achieve the independence they need to launch larger and more sophisticated attack campaigns in the future.” – Check Point

Regardless, taking the necessary precautions to ensure that a device does not become infected with malicious malware in the first place is the best step towards protection. Stay away from unverified third party apps, and make sure you know the source of files that you are downloading.

TOR PROJECT COMBINES WITH HOME ASSISTANT TO PROTECT INTERNET OF THINGS
July 26, 2016 11:58 am

Many people know of Tor, and the Tor Network, as a way to preserve anonymity online.  What is less known is that Tor began as a U.S intelligence communications tool, but was repurposed in 2006 by the nonprofit The Tor Project

Since this transition, Tor has developed into a service that is used by multitudes of internet users across the globe.  Tor users can download The Tor Browser, which is free and open-source, to connect to the Tor Network and browse the web, or send messages, while keeping their information private and anonymous. 

Some people associate Tor with the dark web, and people who wish to browse hidden, unmonitored areas of webspace for official purposes, whether malicious or benevolent.  In actuality, many people that use Tor are simply normal, everyday individuals surfing the web.  The reasons behind using Tor are many: protecting against identity theft, maintaining online privacy, avoiding censorship, discussing socially sensitive information, etc.

According to The Tor Project FAQ, regular users include, but are not limited to: journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, military officials, business owners, bloggers, IT professionals, whistleblowers and many more. 

Using Tor protects you against a common form of Internet surveillance known as “traffic analysis.” Traffic analysis can be used to infer who is talking to whom over a public network. Knowing the source and destination of your Internet traffic allows others to track your behavior and interests. – The Tor Project

Now, The Tor Project is expanding its functionality to include privacy for “The Internet of Things” (IoT).  The Internet of Things is a term used to reference the interconnection of anything that has the potential to be connected to the internet, or that functions in a digital space.

“The Internet of Things” is the remote control and networking of everyday devices ranging from a family’s lawn sprinkler or babycam to a corporation’s entire HVAC system.” – The Tor Project

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By using Home Assistant, an automation platform that runs on the programming language Python 3, Tor is incorporating privacy technology into everyday life, rather than exclusively online. In regard to the digitization of everyday tasks, jobs and items, as well as the IoT, taking measures to ensure privacy now demands attention beyond monitoring your web presence.

This project was developed by Nathan Freitas, Executive Director of The Guardian Project, which also focuses on maintaining privacy through mobile device customization and the development of encrypted mobile applications.

Too many ‘Things’ in our homes, at our hospitals, in our businesses and throughout our lives are exposed to the public Internet without the ability to protect their communication. Tor provides this, for free, with real-world hard ended, open-source software and strong, state of the art cryptography. – Nathan Freitas

It may be a while before Tor users and people browsing regularly on the Tor Browser rival the number of people using more popular web browsers like Chrome, Safari or Firefox. That said, in regard to the speed at which technology changes, the development of Tor Home Assistant may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring privacy for everything, not just your computer.

For more information check out the Home Assistant page for Tor setup, dubbed “Home Assistant Cookbook.”

KILOCORE CHIP TAKES MULTI-CORE PROCESSING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
July 12, 2016 11:17 am

Developed at the University of Califonia in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Davis, the KiloCore microchip is the next big step in computer processing power. The microchip contains 1000 processors which means it can execute 1.78 trillion instructions per second and is so energy efficient that it can be powered by a single AA battery. KiloCore was first presented on June 16 at the VLSI Symposia, an international conference on semiconductor technology and circuits, in Honolulu.

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Some computer systems, such as Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) use a Single-Instruction-Multiple-Data approach, meaning that although these systems have multiple processors, they are all directing their computational power to the same task. But the Multi-Core systems like the KiloCore chip, are made up of independently programmable processors, which can focus on separate tasks and even turn off if they are not needed.  This allows the processors to save power, and accomplish computational problems much more quickly than a single-thread processor. 

According to a UC Davis press release, the chip could be used in video processing, wireless coding and decoding, data encryption and other scientific applications.  Most notably, the chip could be incorporated into data centers to make record processors more energy efficient and faster. Bevan Baas, leader of the team behind KiloCore and a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Davis, said that the KiloCore is the most energy-efficient multi-core ever produced.

“To the best of our knowledge, it is the world’s first 1,000-processor chip and it is the highest clock-rate processor ever designed in a university.” – Baas 

It would seem natural, in light of the KiloCore’s processing power and ability to save energy, that it would be immediately incorporated into widely used platforms such as mobile devices, personal computers, etc.

However, fully integrating the chip into current systems is unlikely as it would require software that is designed around a multi-core approach.  For now, it is far more likely that the chip will be used in scientific endeavors. With time and attention to the processing power of multi-core processors, we may see more personal computers and mobile devices being designed with multi-core functionality. Regardless, the KiloCore Chip is a huge step forward in what can be accomplished with computer processing. 

Featured Image Source – The Quint 

LEARNING TO CODE WITH MINECRAFT
June 2, 2016 2:21 pm

Even if you haven’t played it, you’ve probably heard of Minecraft. For those unfamiliar, Minecraft is an open-world, sandbox game in which players can build 3D environments with various blocks. 

The game exploded in popularity after its release in 2011, and has since attracted a devoted following of players. IGN ranked Minecraft as the #3 best-selling game of all time, with 70 million copies sold over a variety of platforms (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mobile).

In conjunction with the Hour of Code movement and TeacherGamingMojang, the developers behind Minecraft, have learned ways to incorporate programming into the game. 

Hour of Code is a global initiative designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of computer science. Launched by Code.org and Computer Science Education Week, Hour of Code helps bring programming and computer science to students at the grassroots level. 

When starting out you don’t even have to purchase Minecraft. Simply visit https://code.org/mc, where after a short introductory video by Minecraft’s lead developer “Jeb,” you’ll enter a version of Minecraft. Using Blockly, a visual programming editor that displays bits of code as connected blocks, you will help “Alex” or “Steve” (The two Minecraft characters) navigate the Minecraft world by solving a series of puzzles.

Each time you solve a puzzle, you are given the option to view the code behind what you just created. The code you are writing, while helping Alex or Steve build a house or plant crops, is actually JavaScript, a programming language used for HTML, the Web and various other functions.  JavaScript is a popular language for people new to coding, so by using Minecraft, players can learn JavaScript fundamentals in a fun and interactive environment. 

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Learning programming with Minecraft is not limited to this online coding activity. MinecraftEdu, an independent learning project by TeacherGaming supported by Mojang, uses Minecraft gameplay to teach a variety of subjects. MinecraftEdu has an Hour of Code activity package as well, in which students use a Minecraft mod called ComputerCraft.

Created by modder Dan200, the mod incorporates interactive blocks dubbed “turtles” into Minecraft to teach students programming and computer science through new ways to interact with the game. MinecraftEdu comes equipped with ComputerCraftEdu, or the mod can be downloaded and applied to the regular Minecraft game. If students or teachers want to delve deeper into Minecraft-based learning there is now a full expansion of MinecraftEdu called Minecraft: Education Edition, which will be released as an early access program for educators this summer.   

To account for students without regular access to the internet or Minecraft, there is even an option for a printable MinecraftEdu board game! Another option is the Minecraft edition offered through Raspberry Pi. The Pi 3 comes pre-loaded with a version of Minecraft, that can teach players how to code with the programming language Python

It can be scary to dive into programming, especially if you have no prior experience with computer science. Game-based learning, like learning to code with Minecraft, is helping to alleviate some of these hurdles by making coding fun and interactive. These types of initiatives are changing the norms of not only what we learn, but how we learn. Who knows, in the next few years game-based learning and interactive e-learning activities could become standard over traditional teaching methods.