Australia’s government turns the heat up on encrypted messaging apps

The Australian government is cracking down on encrypted apps.
Image: Getty Images

The jig is up for encrypted messaging, in the eyes of the Australian government.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Friday morning the government will bring in new laws to force tech companies to hand over data protected by encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal.

It’s in light of increased use of encryption in cases related to terrorism, drugs trafficking, and paedophilia rings. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said 65 percent of serious investigations now involve some sort of encryption.

“At the end of the day, what has happened here is legislation has not yet kept pace with technology,” AFP’s deputy commissioner, Michael Phelan, said during a press conference.

The new laws will be modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which gives intelligence agencies the power to de-encrypt communications.

But here’s the problem: Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal use end-to-end encryption, which means the key to accessing these messages is held by the sender and the receiver, and not by the company.

So will these companies have to build a backdoor to these encrypted apps, creating a vulnerability that can be taken advantage by hackers with the right tools?

Well, Turnbull isn’t explicitly asking for a backdoor. Authorities will force companies to give access to these encrypted communications “lawfully” via a warrant or a court order.

“What we need is the cooperation where we can compel it, but we will need the cooperation from the tech companies to provide access in accordance with the law,” Turnbull said.

Encryption keys are devised by a mathematical formula. Asked if whether the laws of mathematics would curb the government’s bid to crack end-to-end encryption, Turnbull said Australia’s laws would overrule. No, you read that right.

“Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia,” he said.

Given terrorists aren’t just using readily available messaging apps, it remains to be seen how the government’s proposed laws will deal with the problem of the dozens of encryption packages out there.

It likely won’t work in reality

Matthew Warren, a cyber security professor at Deakin University, said intelligence agencies will potentially focus their efforts on how they can intercept messages in realtime. But that’s unlikely to work.

“The problem is if it would work in reality. It would only work if you knew the terrorist target that you were tracking, and actually knew what technologies they were using,” he explained.

“In order for this to work in realtime it means the intelligence organisations will need access to the encryption keys. Apple and Facebook and WhatsApp aren’t going to do that.”

Even if certain companies agree to create a backdoor to their apps, Warren said those looking to break the law could simply change to one of the many dozen encrypted apps available on the market.

Nevertheless, he expects “a number of countries” will look to implement similar legal powers, after a G20 statement on countering terrorism encouraged companies to collaborate with law enforcement on providing “lawful and non-arbitrary access to available information.”

Facebook and Apple stand firm on encryption

Following a series of terrorist attacks, Facebook announced it will be using artificial intelligence and employed a team of 150 counterrorism experts to stop terrorist activity on its platform. But it will stop short of weakening encryption for authorities.

“We appreciate the important work law enforcement does, and we understand their need to carry out investigations,” a Facebook spokesperson said via email.

“That’s why we already have a protocol in place to respond to requests where we can. At the same time, weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone.”

WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, won’t succumb to pressure either. Its co-founder Brian Acton stated in January it will “fight any government request to create a backdoor.”

Apple wouldn’t comment directly on the Australian government’s pressure on encrypted messaging, but pointed to a statement by CEO Tim Cook in which he said the company will never allow backdoor access to its products to any government agency.

We’ll find out if the Australian government’s plans hold much if any water, when the legislation is put to the country’s Parliament by the end of the year.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/07/14/australian-government-encrypted-apps/

New science and technology program wants to engage more women in STEM

Superstar in STEM ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith at the Australian Astronomical Observatorys 3.9m Anglo-Australia Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.
Image: Lisa Harvey-Smith/supplied

Superstars of STEM is a new program by Science and Technology Australia that aims to smash the stereotypical portrait of people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).The plan is to identify 30 superstar women currently in STEM, and work with them to create role models for young women and girls, and thus move towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM.

As the new ambassador and a mentor for Superstars of STEM, my role is to encourage broad participation, which we hope will elevate the visibility of women STEM professionals in public life.

Encouraging more women in STEM

There are already some programs that support female scientists and technologists in a bid to break down systemic obstacles. These include the Science in Australia Gender Equity program. Others aim to inspire women to study STEM subjects, such as Code like a Girl or to help young women build their techno-confidence, such as SheFlies and Robogals.

Adding to this picture, Superstars of STEM aims to address public perception and is founded on the principle that visibility matters in achieving equality.

Rather than simply attempting to shoehorn women into the public eye, this new program will work with 30 women in STEM to equip them with the skills, confidence and opportunities to become role models. This approach will build on the work being done to address systemic issues facing female scientists and technologists.

Have our young, modern-day

Marie Curies

,

Ruby Payne-Scotts

,

Ada Lovelaces

and

Isobel Bennetts

passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

A recent European study by Microsoft found that most girls became interested in STEM at around the age of 11, but their interest began to wane at 15. This is an important age, as girls are starting to make decisions that will set the trajectory of their academic life.

The lack of role models in STEM was identified as the key factor that influenced the girls in the study, as well as a lack of practical experience with STEM subjects at school. On Twitter, 92% of the most followed scientists are male. When women scientists are mentioned in the media, they often tend to be described by their appearance rather than their achievements.

The need for more female STEM role models has also been echoed in similar reports and programs in Asia, the UK, Africa and the United States.

In Australia, more than half of all undergraduates and half of PhD students are female. Almost 60% of junior science lecturers are women. But women comprise just 16% of top-level science and technology researchers, professors and professionals.

Role models

As a young kid gazing at the stars, my role models were pioneering astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and eccentric types such as the late, great astronomy broadcaster Sir Patrick Moore.

I thought that was enough for me, until as a 16-year-old I met Britains first astronaut, Helen Sharman, at Space School UK. At that moment I suddenly realised that every one of my role models in the fields of astronomy and space science had been male.

Meeting this real-life STEM superstar had a transformational influence on me. It even spurred me on to apply for the European Astronaut Program in 2009.

As someone who is passionate about astrophysics and science education I have inadvertently become a role model myself. But the continued lack of diverse role models in STEM makes me wonder how many missed opportunities and how much unrealised potential continues to be lost. Have our young, modern-day Marie Curies, Ruby Payne-Scotts, Ada Lovelaces and Isobel Bennetts passed up on science as a subject in favour of more conventional choices?

The new superstars

In its first year, Superstars of STEM is placing 30 women in the public eye, by equipping them with advanced communication skills. This will include media training, meetings with decision-makers, and opportunities to showcase their work.

Participants will also be supported to speak with girls directly at local high schools and public events, along with establishing a public profile online.

There are too few transformational and brilliant women in the public eye. Every success in science and technology in Australia is built on the work and contributions of people across the genders. For the sake of our girls, we need to celebrate these outstanding scientists and their work.

I imagine a time when we ask children to draw a scientist and they draw somebody who looks like mathematician Nalini Joshi, molecular biologist Suzanne Cory, or astronomer Karlie Noon.

The measure of the success of Superstars of STEM will be whether young Australian women can turn on the television, read a newspaper or engage with social media and see women experts presenting STEM as an exciting and viable career. I cant wait to witness the opportunities this change will bring.

This article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia.

This article originally published at The Conversation here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/02/superstars-in-stem-women-australia/

One inspirational teacher’s ‘Wootube’ channel is making math fun again

For the past decade or so, there’s been a decline in the number of mathematics students in high schools in Australia. But one teacher is giving new life to the subject through his thoroughly engaging YouTube tutorials is Eddie Woo, the man behind WooTube.

A teacher at Sydney’s Cherrybrook Technology High School, Woo has more than 40,000 subscribers not bad for someone whose content is dedicated to explaining concepts like trigonometric equations, inequality proofs, and checksums.

Woo, who will feature on ABC documentary television series Australian Story, explained how he gained a passion for teaching mathematics in university, where he was studying to become a teacher.

He told ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday how his mind “went blank” when he was trying to figure out how to explain first principles, a concept in calculus, as part of a university assignment.

“I sorta could answer the questions, but I just never comprehended it until that moment where I was forced to explain it to my friends, to my fellow university students,” Woo told the station.

“And that’s where I realised if you ask the question of maths ‘why is this important,’ ‘what does it speak to me about the world’ not just ‘how do I answer the question’ then actually, it speaks really deeply to that human desire to understand the world around you and be able to appreciate what makes it work.”

For many students, Woo’s method of teaching has helped suck them into the world of math, a subject which many kids can struggle with.

Also, we’ve always wondered what on earth that number “e” means. Now we know!

More high school teachers like this guy, please.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/01/eddie-woo-youtube-mathematics/

Guy expertly infuriates Twitter with ridiculous maths ‘problem’

Excuse me?
Image: twentieth century fox

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

When twitter user @SandalShagger (yes, really) posted a nonsensical statement about children born in 2005, he may not have known how many people it would reach but he certainly knew it would annoy those it did.

Behold: A contender for the world’s most infuriating tweet.

“Let that sink” indeed. It’s like a multi-car pileup of logic, sense and reason. But it doesn’t end there.

Before long the internet did what it does best: Made a messy situation even messier. Some quickly concluded it was a troll move and played along.

But many, many others still fell for it hook, line and sinker.

It didn’t help that @Sandalshagger soon decided to jump back into the fracas and confuse things even further.

That is how the world ends then. Not with a bang, but with total and utter tweet-based chaos.

Eventually, Twitter user @ForensicWow summed it all up quite nicely.

BONUS: This is what happens when you binge-watch Black Mirror

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/01/18/maths-age-problem-twitter-madness/