The Internet of Things

I think this video is an absolutely fascinating view of how we can maximize our internet usage. In the video, Dr. John Barrett explains how the internet has progressed from the very first public web servers in the late 80’s and early 90’s to the web today– which contains over 4000 exabytes of data. He explains how the internet now, or in the near future– the “internet of things”– is an internet in which the physical world is entirely connected and monitored by the internet. He talks about how some of our applications like traffic, news, travel agency, and restaurant apps can tell us exactly when things are available for us to use or not. For example, you can use a restaurant app to not only see how long the wait will be at a particular restaurant, but to book a table as well. In a similar manner, he says that the “internet of things” could be used in the future to improve the quality of life for everyone, especially those living in cities. For example, to send feedback from a patient’s heart monitor to a hospital, no matter where the patient is. He talks about how we can expand the use of green energy by limiting nonessential electricity use through the internet– your washing machine only turns on when there are enough clothes in it, and when energy levels are high enough to warrant it. This way, no one goes without energy, and no one has a surplus. Essentially, Dr. Barret talks about how far we’ve come, and how far we have the potential to go.

Barrett addresses the idea of “big brother” in the video as well. In order for his “internet of things” to work, basically everything important has to be monitored. But he says that he would hope that the benefits of such a system would outweigh the lack of privacy. He also addresses concerns about security risks, where one hack could bring down a vital system and cause loss of life or limb.

In any case, I think it’s good food for thought.

 

How It Evolved Panel

Hey all,

Hope you’re looking forward to the How It Evolved Panel tomorrow and Thursday night. Can’t wait to see you all there. Hopefully you’ll be ready to have a vibrant and stimulating conversation! So, in order to prep you for that, we want you to consider the following questions:

  1. In what ways have interactions and information shared on the internet changed over time?
  2. What is your opinion on online dating? How has the internet changed our deepest and most innate human desire to find a mate?
  3. Do the benefits of online dating/social media outweigh the potential risks? What are those potential risks?
  4. How has the internet connected us for reasons other than social interaction?
  5. In what ways has our interconnectedness put us and our digital identities at risk?

In general, we hope to get into a discussion about how the internet has been used to connect people, how the ways in which it connects people have changed over time, and the effects of those connections. We will be focusing more specifically on online dating, cyber crime, and social media in the medical field.

Happy thinking!

A New Front: Cyber Crime and Warfare in the Digital Age

This article, titled “Cybercrime, Cyberweapons, and Cyber Wars: Is There Too Much of It in the Air?” discusses how the capabilities of criminals and terrorists has evolved with the advent of increased online traffic. Criminals can produce and/or sell fake documents, malware, credit card and bank information, bulletproof web hosting, and hacking services such as DDoS attacks and bot spamming for a relatively low cost. And they still make a huge profit because the market for those things has expanded so greatly.

The use of malware and hacking techniques is not limited to the criminal underbelly of the internet. In fact, law enforcement and counter-terrorist forces have had to don the black hat in order to prevent so-called “cyber-terrorist” attacks. These attacks are easy to launch with very little skill in computer programming– in fact, according to the article, they can be waged with little more than the malware available on a petty cyber-criminal’s website. Even so, counter-cyber-terrorists seem to be one step behind their adversaries, and the effects of their efforts have been mostly negative for the general populace. Violations of privacy and freedom of information by intelligence agencies in its attempts to combat terrorism have become more and more popular in the news, especially following the Snowden leaks.

Catch Me if You Can

Go look up computer virus in google images, it’s hilarious.

You may or may not be surprised to know that viruses (and their cousins, including worms, Trojans, and malware) have existed for about as long as the internet itself. In this article by Gregory Benford, one of the first scientists to work with theĀ Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANet), Benford explains how the first virus came to be, and some of the consequences of its creation.

As Benford tells us, the very first computer virus was largely harmless but very, very annoying. It simply used a chain reaction to add bad/redundant/superfluous code to certain programs and sap the processing power on computers infected with the virus. Benford, who had created the virus himself, notified the appropriate authorities at the main ARPANet server and warned them of the potential for viruses to do actual damage to computers on the network. Nonetheless, new viruses were created, sparking an entire market for virus protection.

As technology and programming have become more and more advanced, more malicious bugs have been created to take out computing systems. Benford focuses on the famous (or perhaps infamous) worm called Stuxnet, which was used to infect and shut down an Iranian nuclear power plant in 2010. The worm used a false certificate to gain access to all computers on a network using Windows. Then it found its way into a program called Siemens Step7, which programmed many of the industrial processes of the plant. Next, it compromised the system that received input from those industrial processes and subsequently dictated changes to the output. By gaining access to the input, the creators of the worm could see exactly what processes were running in the plant and could change the output so that– essentially– the plant blew up. The worm could then replicate and spread to other computers on the network.

Benford warns in his conclusion that Stuxnet is proof that digital viruses can be used to affect the analog world. As our society becomes increasingly “connected” to computing systems, we must be vigilant and protect our networks from such viruses. The damage that potent viruses can do could be catastrophic.

If you’re interested in the Stuxnet virus and its effects, I’d recommend this article (complete with pictures!)

And here is a timeline of how viruses have evolved over time, courtesy of Wikipedia.

What is Cloud Computing?

I have to admit, I hadn’t given a second thought to what the cloud actually was until it was brought up during our brainstorm. Can you tell that I literally just googled “What is cloud computing?” I can say that without embarrassment because I know I am not the only one.

From what I’ve read, both in the article by Eric Griffith for PC Mag and various other academic papers floating around in the library database, the cloud is exactly what you would imagine it to be– a nebulous, intangible thing that still manages to hold bytes upon bytes upon bytes of information. We might not know what it is, but we know that our iTunes is in it, so it must be cool in our books.

Joking aside, the cloud is essentially a hard drive without the hard. It’s a location on the internet where information is stored or synced with other information elsewhere– all without the physical storage unit that we’re accustomed to having. Think DropBox, Google Drive, or Windows SkyDrive. Most cloud storage is provided by Google, Apple, Amazon, and Windows (both on a commercial and individual level) as well as by companies that are specifically dedicated to providing online data storage.

Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic shift towards greater use of the cloud for storage. For big businesses, it means that files can not only be shared over long distances with many different people, but that each of those people now have permanent access to those files and any changes made to them by all the people with access. Instantaneously. On a smaller scale, it means that you have access to your Chemistry lab report on your phone or your laptop or your iPad and can pull it up for your professor when you forget the hard copy after only getting 45 minutes of sleep.

The benefits of this are pretty clear: instant access to your information from various locations, the ability to share it seamlessly with others and receive feedback, and peace of mind that the nudes saved on your phone won’t be gone when you drop it in the toilet.

On the other hand, according to Griffith, there are some cons that potentially outweigh the pros, the main one being that there is no cloud where there is no internet. That means that your access to your information is entirely dependent on your internet service provider, and you are therefore a slave to their rates, fees, and inconsistent bandwidth speeds. Ultimately, if the servers that provide cloud storage crash, you’re out of luck. Like my dad always says, “Did you back up your stuff on the external hard drive yet?”

“No, Dad.”

“Well did you put it on a thumb drive?”

“Dad.”