The Lava Lamps That Help Keep The Internet Secure

At the headquarters of Cloudflare, in San Francisco, there’s a wall of lava lamps: the Entropy Wall. They’re used to generate random numbers and keep a good bit of the internet secure: here’s how.

For a technical overview of the Entropy Wall click here.

Video by YouTuber Tom Scott

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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.

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Apple set to make big waves in the the app economy

Apple CEO Tim Cook (right) talks to the author in 2015 about Apple's perspective on code and education.
Image: Elizabeth Pierson/mashable

Welcome to Apple College. School is in session.

Everyone I know has a mobile app idea. I even have a few, but little idea of how to build an iPhone app.

Last year, I tried learning code with Apples Swift Playgrounds iPad app. It schooled me in the basics of Swift, the new programming language Apple unveiled three years ago, while entertaining me with an adorable on-screen code buddy. I liked it, but also had trouble seeing the path from my training (which, to be fair, I never completed) to building a Swift-based mobile iOS app. Swift Playgrounds also launched at the same time as Apples K-12 Everybody Can Code educational curriculum materials.

Now, though, the path is clearer as Apple has launched its first ever college-level code curriculumwith it, Apples Swift-based curriculum now spans from kindergarten through the first two years of college.

Available for free starting Wednesday in Apples iBooks, the curriculum includes everything students and teachers need to learn how to code in Swift and build real mobile apps.

We couldnt be happier about rolling this out and getting it under way, Apple CEO Tim Cook told me on Tuesday.

Two years earlier, Cook told me how he believed everyone should learn how to code and that coding should be a required course like social studies, English, and mathematics in every public-school curriculum. But, until now, that vision had never extended beyond the K-12 education system and into the non-compulsory school arena.

Apples new App Development Curriculum is, Cook told me, Designed for both community college and high school students who want to learn how to develop apps and pursue careers in what is the fastest growing job segment in the economy.

The app economy is substantial. App Annie put mobile app revenue at roughly $51 billion in 2016 and projects it to be over $100 billion by 2020. That kind of growth means the demand for skilled app workers is growing.

One benefit of [Apples App Development Curriculum] is that if you look at the 2 million Jobs weve created in the economy, about three-quarters of those, give or take are in app development, said Cook, That segment of economy has really grown leaps and bounds since the introduction of the App Store in 2008.

Apple hopes to help people of all ages enter this workforce with a year-long course that was developed and designed by Apple educators and engineers, some of whom came directly from Apples platform engineering team.

While the curriculum targets late high school and college students, Cook sees the potential for anyone who wants to download the course. It could, he told me, be for someone mid-career or looking to make a career change, or even some just looking to learn something new or a new hobby.

A look at part of the App Development Curriculum lesson plan.

Image: Apple

The start of an app programming project.

Image: Apple

The coursewhich comprises roughly 180 hours of training and includes lesson plans, presentations, instructions, and exerciseswill provide the framework for teachers to guide students through the fundamentals of Swift programming and have students build real, functioning apps. The curriculum will even include some of the architectural work necessary for scaling up an app.

Even though this announcement comes just two weeks before Apples World Wide Developers Conference, Cook insists that the two are not related.

Instead, in order to “make the academic year” they announced the course so “community colleges could begin communicating this to prospective students.

It appears Apple is already on schedule. Seven community college systems serving half a million students have already adopted Apples App Development Curriculum, with some planning to teach it as early as this summer.

Among them is Houston Community College (HCC), where Dr. Madeline Burillo, president of HCC Southwest College, is so excited about the course, she signed up for it herself. The key factor to Swift is that it is much more intuitive, making it easier for people to learn, she said in a written statement.

‘We’re excited about where it could lead and how many it can help in this new economy.’ Tim Cook

HCC Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado said, This partnership is one that will benefit our community by teaching students a valuable skill and it will benefit Apple by providing future developers who are trained specifically for the needs of the iOS community.

The focus on community colleges is not accidental.

A 2015 survey of community colleges found that 6.3 million people were enrolled in public, two-year colleges. Of those attending these schools, many (44 percent, according to the Education Longitudinal Study covering 2002 to 2006) were low-income students. These schools also often serve women and minorities.

Putting these tools in the hands of these schools could, Apple hopes, serve as a new engine of economic development.

In a statement provided to me, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauded Apples new college-level curriculum. Apple’s investment in our community with the launch of the app development curriculum will tap into the creativity of our students, inspire new possibilities, and foster our culture of technological transformation.

Apples interest in education is, Cook reminded me, deep in its DNA.

“We’re excited about where it could lead and how many it can help in this new economy,” he said.

Even so, the expansion of the program comes just weeks after Apple announced a $1 billion fund to support manufacturing jobs in the United States, and (at least for now) the new App Development Curriculum is focused on U.S. colleges. I had to wonder, is Apple trying to send a message to the Trump administration that Apple also cares deeply about American job growth?

Cook quickly dismissed the idea.

We began working on Swift many years ago. It spanned multiple administrations. No this isnt related to anything to do with politics.

He did grant though, that the impact Apple has been able to make on manufacturing, what he termed a ripple in the pond, could be mirrored in a similar, albeit larger, ripple in the pond for the mobile app area.

Ultimately, Apples new App Development Curriculum is part of a much larger, still unrecognized plan. Its sort of the next step of a long plan for us with Swift and trying to help prepare people for the new economy, said Cook.

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Mapping app’s pop-up ‘smart bus’ aims to be the future of buses

A smaller, smarter bus?
Image: citymapper

Citymapper, a popular app used to navigate around London, is trialling a “smart bus” for two days around the city.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the app’s CMX1 green bus will run on “the Circulator,” described as an “experimental popup route” in central London, starting at Southwark through Blackfriars Bridge, Somerset House and South Bank.

The “smartbuses” have a smart display that tells you where you are and what’s coming next. They also have USB charging for smartphones and tracking software for real-time integration with the app, which can count passengers, for example. They’re also smaller than regular buses.

“We built software for everything, including realtime operational control to driver management to scheduling systems. Were reinventing how to think about all of these in the realtime world. Weve taken systems that havent traditionally talked to each other and integrated them,” Citymapper said.

The company has built a simulation tool, codenamed Simcity, to evaluate routes by analysing in real-time the transport demand across the city.

Looking at data such as who gets on and off, where and when, Citymapper hopes to figure out how to improve existing routes and identify new and better routes in the cities.

Sounds exciting, right?

However, not everyone was hooked. As pointed out by Wired, which ran an exclusive on the buses, Citymapper has to totally rely on Transport for London (TfL) for the two-day popup trial.

But TfL, which issues licenses for private buses doing sightseeing tours, hasn’t issued a license for Citymapper buses (this is also the reason they’re free).

This is kind of bad news for the company, as no licence = no bus beyond a two-day popup.

Looking at the first social reactions, it looks like only journalists were riding it:

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How these 4 women are disrupting the tech scene

Image: FotoshopTofs / pixabay

Despite receiving the same education as their male counterparts, women with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are actually less likely to work in a STEM occupation.

One important step to closing the gender gap in STEM fields is sharing the stories of women thriving in these careers and not just the role models of STEM women in history, but the stories of those in the field today. University of Phoenix believes that shining a spotlight on women who are making waves will help inspire future generations of female tech geniuses.

Following are stories about four intrepid women who are making a name for themselves in tech and who are helping to shape the future of the industry.

Image: University of Phoenix

Meilani Conley

Meilani Conley knew early on that she was destined to pursue a career in science and mathematics. Though the adults in her life tried to dissuade her telling her that women have fewer opportunities in STEM fields than men Conley persevered and currently holds a Bachelor of Computer Science and Mathematics from Southwest Baptist University and a Master of Information Systems from University of Phoenix.

Conleys passion for computers began when she was nine years old. She was constantly fascinated by the inner workings of electronics. While the kids in her class daydreamed about summer vacation, Conleys mind was filled with metal, wires and electricity. Shes proved that you can beat the status quo by pushing yourself and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Clarkson University.


Kirsten Hoyt

Kristen Hoyt, Academic Dean for the College of Information Systems and Technology at University of Phoenix, has a lot to say about women pursuing careers in tech.

In 1996, women made up about 37 percent of the IT workforce, but in 2010 that number dropped to 25 percent, said Hoyt in one radio interview. In fact, as of 2014, the most common occupations for women were secretaries, administrative assistants, and teachers.

Hoyts program at University of Phoenix is directly fighting back to change this statistic by developing partnerships to advance women in technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is projected that there will be 1.4 million computer-science jobs by 2020 but not enough individuals with the skills to apply for those jobs.

Hoyt was persistent in her interests while growing up and says she was fortunate enough to take a coding class early on. This led to a degree in programming that ultimately brought her to the role of Academic Dean for University of Phoenix College of Information Systems and Technology.

What else is to be done to ensure equality in the workforce? Hoyt said she believes in establishing a technology-based foundation from the earliest days of our childrens educations, and cites her own experience as the reason she believes in jumpstarting technology education for students at a young age.


Stephenie Gloden

Stephenie Gloden is the vice president of Enterprise Resource Management for Apollo Education Group, a position she earned through her persistence and years of hard work. With more than 20 years of IT experience primarily focused on software development and IT operations leadership Gloden sought out a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and a Master of Business Association from University of Phoenix, along with a Master of Science in Information Management from Arizona State University.

Glodens most recent initiative is University of Phoenix startup, the RedFlint experience center located in downtown Las Vegas. As co-founder and business lead for strategy, Gloden is responsible for educating, incubating and accelerating ideas that solve the problems facing small businesses and the local community – including non-profits, schools and hospitals. Glodens diehard entrepreneurial spirit brought her to where she is today something both men and woman should strive for in their careers.


Charity Jennings

What can you do to be an ally to women and ensure youre doing everything in your power to help them succeed? The answer is far simpler than you may think.

According to Charity Jennings, to cultivate and sustain diverse perspectives and expand the pipeline of IT talent, women must feel welcome in the industry.

Jennings serves as the program dean for University of Phoenix College of Information Systems and Technology, and has expanded her role to take on high profile technology projects that have University-wide impact.

Whether women are writing code or leading the next IT startup in Silicon Valley [] its critical to get our young women engaged and excited about becoming future engineers, web developers, tech entrepreneurs and executives.

Jennings says that the responsibility lies in the hands of educators, corporations, policy makers, community leaders and parents to help cultivate and nurture the interests of young women and help them reach their goals.

So when you see your daughter, cousin, niece or student taking apart her PC or fiddling with the HTML of a website, you can play a role in helping her explore opportunities in STEM by encouraging her interests and by showing her all of the opportunities for a career in tech.

The message to women everywhere is clear: the tech industry needs you.

Watch next: ‘There is a difference between difficult and impossible’: Three girls pursuing STEM careers in Egypt

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How to turn off Messenger’s Chat Heads

Image: Christopher Mineses/Mashable

You never have to be interrupted by your friend’s floating head again.

Chat Heads were introduced several years ago on Facebook Messenger for Android. The feature uses profile pictures of the people you’re talking to on Messenger as shortcuts for the chatthey pop up on your screen, regardless of what you’re doing, and invite you to tap into the conversation.

While the feature can be useful sometimes, it’s mostly just in the way when you’re doing something else on your phone.

Messenger also has a feature that lets you directly reply from your notification bar when you need to, so the Chat Heads are frankly a bit superfluousand again, annoying. But they’re still on by default.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get rid of them. Here’s how:

  1. In Messenger, click on your profile button on the top right.

  2. Scroll down to the “Chat Heads” setting and toggle it off.

Voila! Easy, right? And totally worth it to keep disembodied heads from interrupting your Clash of Clans sesh.

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Can this Al win a $200,000 poker battle?

An AI system named Libratus will go up against top poker players during matches later this month in Pittsburgh.
Image: joe raedle/ Getty Images

Artificial intelligence has already become a part of our everyday lives through AI-assisted services like Siri. But Al has its own hobbies too, including the mind-whirling game of poker.

Scholars at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an AI system named Libratus that will wage a poker battle (with a $200,000 pot) against four of the best human pros out there. In a tournament called Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante, Libratus and the humans will play matches of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Holdem beginning on Jan. 11 at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the university announced in a press release.

A total of 120,000 hands will be played during the 20-day tournament. The professional players Libratus will compete with include Jason Les, Dong Kim, Daniel McAulay, and Jimmy Chou.

It wouldn’t be the first time bots have played some big games against humans. Indeed such match-ups go back decades. Last March, a Google-produced bot named AlphaGo easily beat 18-time world Go champion Lee Se-dol.

South Korean professional Go player Lee Se-Dol lost to Google’s artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, back in March 2016 in Seoul.

Image: Google via getty Images

But the thing is that poker isn’t like many of these other games.

As explained by the MIT Technology Review, the game of poker may not be as easily dominated by computerized players as others on accounts of its unique rules.

“Unlike board games such as Go or chess, poker is a game of ‘imperfect information,’ and for this reason it has proved even more resistant to computerization than Go,” the MIT Technology Review‘s Will Knight once wrote.

In games like chess, “you know exactly what has happened in the game so far,” explains Carnegie Mellon computer science researcher Tuomas Sandholm, who developed Libratus alongside Ph.D. student Noam Brown. Such an advantage doesn’t exist in poker, where there’s crucial unknown information like your opponents’ hands.

And the game of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Holdem has been especially difficult for AI to take on since it deals with a huge scale of probabilities making it a “much bigger game” than Limit Texas Hold’em, Sandholm said.

In the past, game-playing AI has used strategies like programmed human knowledge or machine learning. But more recently, the approximation of equilibrium strategies or rational play has been more effectively used by AI to compete and sometimes beat human players, Sandholm told Mashable.

“It’s very different from how humans play this game.”

Libratus uses the Nash Equilibrium, named after the famed mathematics scholar John Nash, the subject of A Beautiful Mind.

“Named for the late Carnegie Mellon alumnus and Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr., a Nash equilibrium is a pair of strategies (one per player) where neither player can benefit from changing strategy as long as the other players strategy remains the same,” a statement from CMU says. “One of Libratus new technologies is a faster equilibrium-finding method. It identifies some paths for playing a hand as not promising. Over time, the algorithm starts to ignore those bad paths.”

Sandholm and others also created Claudico, an AI system that ultimately lost to human players at poker matches last year. But Sandholm said Libratus has been improved, with more core hours put into programming the system, two new algorithms intended to better play the game and more computing resources and hardware.

It has been programmed to know the rules of poker, but Libratus doesn’t rely on any other information. For example, it has never referenced material from a poker book or poker expert or any other sources, Sandholm told Mashable. This means it will sometimes play the game in a totally new way, making moves that may seem unfavorable to the best of traditional human players.

“It’s very different from how humans play this game,” Sandholm said of the Libratus approach.

“It plays like a martian,” he said. “Its deriving its own strategy from just the rules of the game.”

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The girls learning science in defiance of Boko Haram

(CNN)Stella Uzochukwu, a former electronics engineer, is doing something profound. She is teaching girls how to code in defiance of Boko Haram, whose brutal crusade against western-style education — among other things — has robbed children of education in northern Nigeria.

School girls in the Odyssey Educational Foundation‘s after school STEM program are being encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology, and have built a robot to tackle the country’s waste problem.
    The girl’s efforts were part of the First Lego League competition which has seen 233,000 children across 80 countries enroll.
    For this year’s competition, students had to build and program robots that could pick up and drop off pieces of garbage on a play area. Unused plastic bags have also been turned into play marbles by the girls.
    Odyssey founder Stella Uzochukwu left her well paid job at an engineering firm to set up the charity in 2013, but increasing attacks on schools mainly in northeastern Nigeria and its capital Abuja by Islamist militant group Boko Haram has had an impact. More than 670,000 children have been kept out of school for more than a year due to security fears.

    Making learning safer

    Last year, a series of bombings in Abuja — where Odyssey Educational Foundation operates — killed at least 18 people and injured 41.
    “There was a particular incident last year where we wanted to engage kids in coding during the school holidays”, explains Uzochukwu, “but none of the kids were allowed to come into school because of these attacks”.
    “Their parents wanted to keep them at home so we had to cancel it”, she adds, “it was very sad because we wanted to teach them how to write apps”.
    The mentality amongst parents in Nigeria is “they’d rather die with their children at home than send them to school to die on their own”.
    Despite these challenges, Uzochukwu has persevered. Last year, the charity moved into a dedicated center so kids would not have to come into their school after hours, alleviating security concerns.

    Encouraging girls

    Although the school is co-ed, it has focused its efforts on teaching girls science and tech, deliberately arranging a ratio of three girls to one boy in its clubs: “Most of the boys are already doing maths and science and they love it, but we wanted to encourage it amongst girls as well.”
    When traveling to India to complete a masters degree in telecoms management, Uzochukwu discovered school clubs in India gave extra STEM tuition to children.
    She also noticed that in her masters class of ’42 there were just three women, including herself. Upon returning to Nigeria, she set up the charity.
    “In Nigeria, fewer girls are finishing high school than boys“, she explains. Parents tell us “they cannot afford to pay school fees for both so they choose to pay for the boys”.
    Her seven strong staff go into communities and encourage parents to send their girls to school. Mothers are taught to make soap, creams and other ointments to supplement their income in order to pay for school fees.
    The goal is to ensure kids can learn how to repair computers, laptops, and phones, “so when they get out of school they will not be roaming the streets”.
    “Learning programming, coding and mathematics is what I think marks the difference between underdeveloped and developed nations.”

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    Picture of the Day: The Room Where Satellites Get Tested

    Seen here is the ESA’s incredible satellite testing room in Noordwijk, the Netherlands; officially known as the Compact Payload Test Range in the ESA’s ESTEC technical centre area. In an informative blog post, the ESA adds:

    In this zone of silence, satellite antennas are tested ahead of launch. Metal walls form a ‘Faraday cage’ to block all external signals, isolating the facility from TV and radio broadcasts, aircraft and ship radars, and even mobile calls. Spiky foam cladding absorbs radio signals internally to create conditions simulating the infinite void of space.
    The white surfaces in front of the ‘anechoic’ blue background are reflectors that pass signals from an illuminating antenna to the antenna under test… To increase its capabilities, the Compact Payload Test Range (CPTR) was recently equipped with a state-of-the-art Near-Field Scanner (NFS) to measure the electromagnetic fields closely surrounding a test antenna. Via mathematics, the equivalent radiation at large distances is calculated.
    This new set-up and test technique allow the measurement of larger antennas (up to 8 m in diameter) over a larger frequency range (0.4–50 GHz). [source]

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