Author Archives: Kuchur Dzianis

Collection #1 data breach

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Today I want to discuss one of the biggest personal data breaches in history – Collection #1, which occurred at the beginning of 2019.

Collection #1 is a set of email addresses and passwords totaling 2,692,818,238 rows. However, in total there are 1,160,253,228 unique combinations of email addresses and rehashed passwords. It’s made up of many different individual data breaches from literally thousands of different sources. 

The breach was first revealed by security researcher Troy Hunt who runs the service “Have I been pwned”. Soon after revealing Collection #1 he added more than 7 hundred thousand new unique email and password combinations. You can also use this service to check whether your password is there. 

Personally I checked my email addresses and one of them happened to be hacked. Despite changing all my passwords every half a year and most likely my older password was breached, it still impacted my sense of security.

However the danger of Collection #1 lies not in the amount of data, but in the way it can be used. The easiest and most popular usage is obviously blackmailing. Here you can see an example of a phishing email that many people received soon after Collection #1 breach.

As you can see, the email contains a user password and looks quite convincing. However, those of you who are at least somewhat familiar with cyberattacks should spot at least one weird thing. That’s the keylogger description. Keyloggers don’t function this way. 

Moreover, as all bitcoin transactions can be found in free public access, we can also take a look how much did this hacker earn. As you can see, 2.2 bitcoins, which is 12000$ at the time of the attack.

Now let’s think for a while how this attack can be implemented. First of all, it is impossible to send 2 billion emails without getting banned by the email provider. So, first of all the attacker has to narrow down the amount of emails. As Collection #1 is a collection of various data breaches, many email:password combos are likely not valid. So, first of all, the attacker needs to validate passwords. This can easily be done for example with atlantr, a tool written in python and available on GitHub. After that, the attacker has to send emails to users, which can easily be done with a simple php script.

It is very important to know not only how hackers are trying to fool you but also how you can protect yourself!

Some simple steps you can take include:

  • Turn off your web cameras when you are not using them. Hackers can gain access to your camera and record activity without you knowing.
  • Do not open attachments from people you do not know.
  • Never send sexual or images of yourself to anyone, no matter how long you know them and how much you trust them. Save that for in person. This is especially true for someone you do not know well.

In conclusion, I would like to note that basic knowledge in e-Security is important in the digital society in which we are living today.

Privacy on the Internet does not exist anymore

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I guess many people will agree with me that there is no privacy on the internet. And the truth is that protecting privacy is also a pretty losing game today and in the digital age, we should not expect our online activities to remain private.

More and more data about each of us is being generated faster and faster from more and more devices, and we simply can’t keep up. It’s a losing game both for individuals and for a legal system. Google, Facebook, all big techs, IoT devices that surround us collect a lot of data.  

All of that make me to say that digital privacy does not really exist, unless you cut yourself off from the internet and major apps totally. Basically, when we go on the internet we leave a trail of data that is monetized whether we like it or not. 

Okay, some people may argue that legislation like GDPR tries to fix this problem by forcing the companies to obtain your explicit consent before taking your data. 

But the hard truth is that it is not working that way. A Deloitte survey of 2,000 consumers in the U.S found that 91% of people consent to legal terms and services conditions without even reading them.

Some people would say that you can protect yourself by using different tools like Safe browsers, VPN, and others. 

But in reality, people still choose convenience over security. Many today declare they are worried about privacy, but still continue to use services that hoover up their data.

Former Amazon chief scientist Andreas Weigend said that now we are leaving in a post-privacy economy and based on what i said earlier i tend to agree with him: Privacy on the internet does not exist anymore.



Technology will destroy the job market

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I think it’s best to begin by considering the nature of work performed by most of the world’s population. The reality is that a very large fraction of our workforce is engaged in activities that are on some level routine, repetitive and predictable. Most workers face the same types of challenges again and again and most of their actions and decisions can be predicted, based on what they have done in the past.

At the same time, recent advances in robotics, artificial intelligence – and, especially, machine learning – suggest that much of this predictable work will be susceptible to automation over the next decades. 

Of course, individuals with exceptional talent or a high level of knowledge are not likely to be threatened in the near future. However, for average workers engaged in more routine, predictable occupations, the impact could be quite dramatic.

Some people may argue that automation will simply rearrange jobs and damaged people will be retrained to perform new activities.

However, the question is whether progress will create enough new positions to absorb the victims of automation – and whether these new jobs will be accessible to people with average capability.

I  think that it is unrealistic to expect that the bulk of the workforce can somehow be trained to take on roles that are beyond the reach of technology. My take on it is that technological progress will result in the automation of lower-skill jobs while creating more opportunities for those with higher education levels. Newly created occupations won’t be in the same countries and sectors like those that are destroyed. Therefore, this process will for sure generate “winners” and “losers and will destroy the job market leaving a lot of people behind!



Internet censorship in China

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In most parts of the world, the Internet is usually associated with freedom of speech and expression. However, it also can be utilized as a method of direct propaganda and strict censorship. 

In this article, you will learn how the Internet censorship system works in China.

In recent years, the Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online. First of all, there are topics on the Chinese internet that became taboo from the very beginning. There are not so many of them: everything related to separatism, questions about the independence of Tibet and Xinjiang, protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, everything related to the Falun Gong movement, and, of course, any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and central authorities. However, it is not forbidden to point out any problems on a local level.

At the same time, it is not so important for the Chinese authorities to tightly close access to foreign media. If someone really wants to read the New York Times, Facebook or Twitter, they can. The policy is different: to make the bulk of the population to consume content from local resources controlled by the Communist Party. Therefore, almost all local analogues of existing world services were created: there is an analogue of Twitter (Weibo), there is an analogue of Facebook (Wechat), of YouTube (Youku), and so on, even an analogue of the Quora question-answer service (Zhihu) and the search engine for scientific works Google Scholar (Baidu Wenku). All these resources are obviously under the tight control of the Communist Party. 

All bloggers are also strictly controlled. In the early 2010s, there was no compulsory state registration for Chinese bloggers if they are not well-known personalities and do not represent any structures or legal entities. But already in the mid-2010s, all bloggers were obliged to register using real names and identity documents. In addition, in 2013, there was a responsibility for the publication of compromising information, the so-called law on rumors and speculation. Any criticism of the central authorities, of course, fell into this category. Under this law comes criminal liability when a message is republished more than 500 times or when the number of views is more than 5000. You also should keep in mind that 500 reposts on the scale of the Chinese Internet is nothing. This law covers almost any post on Chinese social networks with information that is not necessarily unreliable, but disliked by the authorities.

This is exactly what happened to the famous Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who tried to warn colleagues that a new infection, very similar to the SARS virus, appeared to be a new COVID19, was spreading in the country. He started to have problems exactly with the law on rumors and speculation. He was summoned to the relevant authorities where he was forced to give explanations and then publicly admit that he was guilty of publishing false information. As we already know the information turned out to be reliable and Li Wenliang himself died from the coronavirus infection that he was trying to warn everyone about.

Already in the beginning of 2021, the State Chancellery for Internet Information Affairs published new rules according to which Internet users, including bloggers, are not allowed to independently publish information about politics, the military sphere, the economy and social sphere  without appropriate accreditation as a media. This is another step towards tightening censorship. In fact, apart from pictures of cats and food, there are less and less topics in the Chinese blogosphere that you can discuss relatively freely.

That is why streaming services are gaining popularity in China now – precisely because communication takes place live and content moderation is difficult. However, artificial intelligence technologies now make it possible to recognize live speech and extract keywords from it. If the algorithm marks the stream as suspicious, then the moderator receives a signal and starts checking this stream manually. If he notices any forbidden or politically unreliable topics, then the broadcast is forcibly stopped, and the user who started it is restricted from accessing the platform.

As technology is constantly evolving, uncensored conversation becomes more and more difficult. When Clubhouse appeared on the internet, the first week in China, it was wildly popular. It seemed as a new form of free communication. However, the Chinese authorities quickly banned it.

For the international community, Beijing’s cyber-policy is a sign of the challenge that a more powerful China presents to the liberal world order, which prioritises values such as freedom of speech. It also reflects the paradox inherent in China’s efforts to promote itself as a champion of globalisation, while simultaneously advocating a model of internet sovereignty and closing its cyber-world to information and investment from abroad.



Data is a new oil?

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Until recently, companies managed just traditional assets such as machines, money and intellectual property. The digital era brought a new type of asset – data. This is the raw material from which forecasts, insights and very big money currently are made.

Big data is becoming the main driver of growth for companies and a new resource for the economy. Companies collect data on customer behavior and equipment operation along the way creating new services based on received information.

The only problem is that people usually are not aware of what data is collected from them which creates many legal disputes on whether companies allowed or not to “spy on their clients”. With adoption of data protection rules in many countries all around the world, tech giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon are facing a real threat for their businesses.

The common phrase “data is new oil” has become dangerous for companies whose business depends on third-party data. In my opinion, comparison is not completely wrong because who controls the data controls the entire market. But for tech giants, comparison with oil barons can result in image deterioration, luck of trust and loss of customers.

Because of that Google’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, tried to popularize a more upbeat way of describing data: “data is more like sunlight than oil,” adding, “It is like sunshine — we keep using it, and it keeps regenerating.”

It is clear that if Google is considered to be an environmentally friendly solar power station, and not a vertically integrated oil company, then so many questions are immediately removed. I do not think everything will work out right away, but the attempt is worthy: the desire to compare technology companies with oil bars is also exaggerated and very incomplete analogy. Maybe it will end up finding an adequate middle.


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The use of facial recognition technology on birds

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Today, I want to demonstrate you a great example of how object recognition technologies based on machine learning:

1) becoming widely available and do not require rare genius programming skills to get the result.

2) can be greatly trained even on a very modest in size data sets.

The article, that I have read some time ago, tells how a bird lover and part-time computer science professor, together with his students, taught the neural network to recognize the bird species and then — and that impressed me a lot – to distinguish individual species of woodpeckers, who flew to the bird feeder in his yard.

At the same time, 2450 photos in the training sample were enough to recognize eight different woodpeckers. The professor estimated the cost of a homemade station for the recognition and identification of birds at about $ 500. This is really can be called technology for everyone and machine intelligence in every yard.

Moreover, this technology can really help birds. As Lewis Barnett, the inventor of this technology wrote in his article : «Ornithologists need accurate data on how bird populations change over time. Since many species are very specific in their habitat needs when it comes to breeding, wintering and migration, fine-grained data could be useful for thinking about the effects of a changing landscape. Data on individual species like downy woodpeckers could then be matched with other information, such as land use maps, weather patterns, human population growth and so forth, to better understand the abundance of a local species over time»

As some people correctly noted, this technology has also some great commercial potential. Just imagine that camera traps will be able to recognize birds that harm your fruit trees and than activate  a device that make a large noise to scare away pests.


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Tiger toilet: Bill Gates suggested to replace sewage system with worms

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I’m pretty sure that all you know about high-tech toilets in Japan which are a real miracle of technology with a bunch of built-in sensors, heated seats, and maybe soon, artificial intelligence. It is really great but you also should know about existence of not so beautiful, but much more important decisions which save people’s lives every day.

From insanitary conditions in the poorest parts of the world, hundreds of thousands of children die every year, millions are ill. And there is no chance to build modern sewage systems there in the foreseeable future.

American billionaire Bill Gates proposed a unique sewage treatment technology using a special type of worms, which solved the problem with cesspools and dysentery in India.

For over a year the team of biologists and engineers, inspired and funded by Bill Gates, have been developing and testing toilets in which manure worms process human waste into water, carbon dioxide and a small residue of fertilizer. Some samples have been operating for five years and do not yet require maintenance. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions in the development and manufacture of these facilities and it was recently announced that another $ 200 million will be spent on deploying a network of such toilets in India and other countries.

The invention called “Tiger toilet” from the outside looks like any other pit latrine. But it doesn’t smell like one. Instead, it comes with a built-in population of tiger worms which recycle our waste to survive. According to experiments, in such toilets worms process not only feces, but also 99% of pathogens, leaving no more than 15% of those obtained in the form of compost materials. The rest becomes water and carbon dioxide. Also, as a result of the work of the worms, the system has practically no unpleasant odor, and it does not attract various insects.

I clearly understand that maybe it is not so very pleasurable to talk about toilets and faeces but honesty speaking, this charity activity impresses me as much as the creation of Microsoft.



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AI creates images of food that doesn’t even exist

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A team of researchers from Tel Aviv consisted of three people taught neural network a very interesting nontrivial skill: generate images of ready-made food from the recipe text. Literally it means that this AI can take any text which contain different ingredients and figure out what the finished food product will look like.

However, the results are not very reliable yet – in the sense that the images of really cooked dishes are sometimes quite different from what the network imagined based on reading the recipe.

Researcher Ori Bar El told:

«It all started when I asked my grandmother for a recipe of her legendary fish cutlets with tomato sauce. Due to her advanced age she didn’t remember the exact recipe. So, I was wondering if I can build a system that given a food image, can output the recipe. After thinking about this task for a while I concluded that it is too hard for a system to get an exact recipe with real quantities and with “hidden” ingredients such as salt, pepper, butter, flour etc.

Then, I wondered if I can do the opposite. Namely, generating food images based on the recipes.  We believe that this task is very challenging to be accomplished by humans, all the more so for computers. Since most of the current AI systems try replace human experts in tasks that are easy for humans, we thought that it would be interesting to solve a kind of task that is even beyond humans’ ability. As you can see, it can be done in a certain extent of success.»

Although these images are far from real, tests on people showed that they like the generated pictures and they find them even appetizing. The authors of the article, which was posted on TNW web site, find this result depressing. As you know, there is a lot of food pictures in Instagram, and now there is a danger that these pictures may turn out to be fake. For many people, it is even more distressing than fake news or portraits of non-existent people. It seems that nothing sacred is left in this world where even a photo of snacks can turn out to be a realistic-looking fantasy of a neural network.


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40% of jobs will be done by machines in as soon as 15 years

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Kai Fu Lee, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and venture capitalist from China has made his prediction regarding our future in a big interview to CBS company.

In addition to the already familiar qualitative statements (for example that the emergence of AI will change the world even better than the appearance of electricity), he formulated some of his quantitative predictions. In particular, Lee believes that in the perspective of 15-25 years, about 40% of people will not be able to compete with algorithms in their work, and this work will have to be changed.

In the interview to CBS he said: “AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs, not just for blue-collar work, but a lot of white-collar work. Chauffeurs, truck drivers, anyone who does driving for a living, their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15-25-year time frame,” he tells. “Many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated. I believe AI is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity,” says Lee.

But it’s okay, it’s more dependent on the authorities who will be forced to somehow regulate this whole process of robotization so that people do not remain without work. Here is another idea from this interview that I really like. Lee believes that the most dramatic changes are not even waiting for the field of transportation but education.

And just AI will help to teach people the future as modern obsolete systems are not capable of. Currently, Lee is financing companies that are providing schools across China with modern AI systems which are designed to make education process better and more productive. The AI-system is being designed to gauge student interest and intelligence by subject.

Lee also believes that in the future AI will be able to analyze student’s portfolio and eliminate problem areas in difficult subjects. Who knows, maybe in the future teachers will lose their jobs altogether.

But it is not all so pessimistic as Lee said in the interview that “in some sense, there is the human wisdom that always overcomes these technological revolutions. The invention of the steam engine, the sewing machine, electricity, have all displaced jobs. We’ve gotten over it. The challenge of AI is this 40 percent, whether it is 15 or 25 years, is coming faster than the previous revolutions.”

And in the end of this post I want to recommend you probably the best book that I have read in 2018: AI Superpowers by Kai Fu Lee.


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A look into the future

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A couple of days ago, I found a very interesting video released by Microsoft in 2009. In this video which was called “Look to the Future”, the American company tried to imagine what our daily life would look like in 10-15 years. And after so much time, it is very interesting to see which predictions come true and which have remained just dreams.

My first observation is that the online translator, which quickly translates everything you say, somehow exists on Skype. Of course, it is not as sophisticated as shown in the picture and there are no such transparent interfaces yet, but the idea itself is exactly implemented. It is also very funny to see that in 2009, Microsoft believed that translucent interfaces are our future, which in my opinion are terribly inconvenient to use in practice.

Now take a look at the electronic boarding pass where you can see different data about your flight. Today, of course, all this would not make any sense, because these functions easily can be performed by our smartphones.

In general, there is a persistent feeling that no one in 2009 could even imagine that in the near future, smartphones would completely replace all terminals with them. Why should I display information on the glass, poke into translucent interfaces if this is all in my pocket?

The video also showed a very interesting concept: augmented or even mixed reality around us. I think that something similar is waiting for us in the near future, and the guys from Microsoft were absolutely right about this.  Also in this video was shown one of the trends of the last year, bending and frameless smartphones.

The only thing that always confused me in these concepts has always been complete isolation from reality and minimalism. For example, where can we put the battery? The last couple of years the issue of energy for a mobile device becomes the most important.

For example, behind this newspaper a power bank must precisely hide in order all this technology miracle could work. If you are interested, you can view the full version of this video under this post.




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