Election hacked, drunken robot elected to school board

RSA 2012 Security experts have warned that electronic voting systems are decades away from being secure, and to prove it a team from the University of Michigan successfully got the foul-mouthed, drunken Futurama robot Bender elected to head of a school board.

With the help of two graduate students, Halderman started to examine the software. Despite it being a relatively clean Ruby on Rails build, they spotted a shell injection vulnerability within a few hours. They figured out a way of writing output to the images directory on the compromised server, and of encrypting traffic so that the front-end intrusion detection system couldn’t spot them. The team also managed to guess the login details for the terminal server used by the voting system. This wasn’t exactly difficult, since the user name and password were both “admin”.

Once in, the team searched the government servers for additional vulnerabilities and system options. They found that the cameras installed to watch the voting systems weren’t protected, and used them to work out when staff left for the day and so wouldn’t spot server activity. More worrying, they also found a PDF file containing the authentication codes for every Washington DC voter in the forthcoming election.



Vortex Gun Fires Electrically Charged Gas Rings at 90 mph

Vortex guns capable of firing doughnut-shaped rings of air have sat around as toys or oddball gadgets for years. Now a U.S. lab has added an extra kick with electrically charged rings that could clear out smoke-filled hallways for firefighters, or deliver clingy shots of tear gas or pepper spray without the need for accuracy.

The vortex gun fires rings that reach a high speed of 90 mph upon exiting the muzzle and travel at 60 mph over more than 150 feet. The rings revolve as they fly through the air, but remain calm within the interior — not unlike the eye of a hurricane — so that they can hold a cargo of nonlethal gas or electrically charged air right up until hitting a target.



Valve said to be working on ‘Steam Box’ gaming console

Recently there’s been chatter that Valve — the company behind the massively popular gaming service Steam — has been considering getting into the hardware business. Specifically, there have been rumors that the company has been toying with the idea of creating a proper set-top console which could potentially pose a threat to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell even recently told Penny Arcade: “Well, if we have to sell hardware we will.”

At a glance that would simply be interesting fodder for a gaming forum debate, but we’ve uncovered information that suggests that not only has Valve been secretly working on gaming hardware for the living room, but that the company is actively pursuing a strategy which would place Steam at the center of an open gaming universe that mirrors what Google has done with Android. Backing up that concept, in the same interview we quote above, Newell says that Valve doesn’t really want to do hardware on its own, stating, “We’d rather hardware people that are good at manufacturing and distributing hardware do [hardware]. We think it’s important enough that if that’s what we end up having to do, then that’s what we end up having to do.”



3D Web for everyone?

Compared to computer games, movies and professional graphics tools the amount of 3D rendered, interactive web content is still rather minimal these days. When we shop online (e.g. deciding if we want to buy a new camera) we often get to see some photographs from pre-set perspectives. In better cases there is a 360 degree view available that has been built out of photographs, but lacks any sort of interactivity with the object and might not provide the required details.

With HTML5 and WebGL there is an opportunity to enrich the web with 3D content. However, for a regular web designer it is rather hard to get interactive 3D models integrated into their webpage and have them viewable across the compute continuum (from high-end workstation machines to mobile phones) due to the coding complexity and inability of the same code to work across different compute devices. This is where XML3D will likely play an important role in the future. It is an extension of HTML5 developed by the Intel Visual Computing Institute*, DFKI and the Saarland University under the lead of Kristian Sons.



Japan builds Tokyo Sky Tree, world’s tallest tower

TOKYO–Nearly a year after the magnitude-9.0 quake that pummeled Japan, construction of the world’s tallest tower, the Tokyo Sky Tree, is now complete.

Builder Obayashi, which recently announced plans for a space elevator to start services by 2050, declared the Sky Tree complete ahead of a ceremony Friday. While the world’s tallest man-made structure remains the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 829 meters (2,720 feet), the Sky Tree tops the list of the tallest free-standing towers at 634 meters (2,080 feet).

It’s 34 meters taller than the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China, and nearly twice the height of its predecessor, Tokyo Tower (333 meters). Operated by Tobu Railways and a consortium of media companies, the Sky Tree will serve as a digital terrestrial broadcasting center for Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region.



New speech-jamming gun hints at dystopian Big Brother future

Japanese researchers have created a hand-held gun (pictured above) that can jam the words of speakers who are more than 30 meters (100ft) away. The gun has two purposes, according to the researchers: At its most basic, this gun could be used in libraries and other quiet spaces to stop people from speaking — but its second application is a lot more chilling.



Reinventing the battery: Donald Sadoway at TED2012

“The electricity powering the lights in this theater was generated just moments ago,” says MIT professor, Donald Sadoway, now on stage at TED2012 to talk power. “The way things stand, electricity demand must be in balance with electricity supply.” The problem is: coal and nuclear plants can’t address demand fast enough. How do we deal with the problem of intermittency?

Realizing the critical importance of the humble battery as a way to help with the energy crisis — and that, nonetheless, there is simply “no battery technology capable of meeting the demanding performance requirements of the grid,” Sadoway started to think differently. “We need to abandon the paradigm of chasing the coolest chemistry to chase down the cost curve by making lots of products,” he says. Instead, he wanted to invent to the pricepoint of the electricity market. ”If you want to make something dirt-cheap, make it out of dirt. Preferably dirt that’s locally sourced.” He also decided to be seemingly perverse in his hunt for potential electricity storage, looking at a source that neither generates nor stores electricity but in fact consumes huge amounts of it: aluminum production.


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