Harpoon to pierce junk tested in space for first time

A harpoon designed to clear harmful space junk has been tested for the first time.

The British-led RemoveDebris mission aims to tackle the problem of waste material in space left by rockets and other deployments.

Scientists say between 16,000 and 20,000 pieces of junk have been tracked orbiting the Earth.

The test was carried out by Airbus and involved a harpoon piercing through sample pieces of debris that were dangled on a boom about one-and-a-half metres from the spacecraft.

When the harpoon hits debris, a barb is deployed to secure it.

The harpoon pierces through the skin of debris

Image: The harpoon pierces through the skin of debris

Although the harpoon is still a number of years away from operational use, the experiment is a major step towards making it possible to clean up space junk as the number of spacecraft launches continues to increase.

Astronaut Tim Peake has revealed the damage orbital junk can cause to spacecraft.

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He shared an image of a chipped window panel on board the International Space Station in 2016.

Scientists believe something as small as a paint chip hurtling towards the space station could have caused the damage.

It is hoped when the harpoon is fully operational it will be capable of firing at debris up to 30 metres away.

Between 16,000 and 20,000 pieces of junk have been tracked orbiting the Earth.

Image: Between 16,000 and 20,000 pieces of junk have been tracked orbiting the Earth

Back on Earth, engineers are still trying to work out how the system can be used to target moving objects.

The harpoon – which is capable of travelling at 20 metres per second – is a joint initiative between Airbus, the University of Surrey and the Surrey Satellite Technology firm.

Previously, a RemoveDebris experiment showed how a net could be used to catch potentially dangerous pieces of rubbish orbiting the Earth.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Space debris can have serious consequences for our communications systems if it smashes into satellites.

When in full operation, scientists aim to make the harpoon fire at debris up to 30 metres away.

Image: When in full operation, the harpoon will fire at debris up to 30 metres away

“This inspiring project shows that UK experts are coming up with answers for this potential problem using a harpoon, a tool people have used throughout history.

“This mission is a powerful example of the UK’s expertise in space technology and that by working together, our world-class universities and innovative companies can hugely contribute to the government’s aims for a highly skilled economy through our modern Industrial Strategy.”

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

PewDiePie: Roblox lifts ban after social media backlash

Online social game Roblox has reinstated PewDiePie’s account after banning the popular YouTuber over an “inappropriate username”.

PewDiePie revealed the ban in a video on his YouTube channel to his more than 85 million subscribers.

Other users then reported that they had received bans or warnings simply for mentioning the YouTuber’s name.

PewDiePie’s account was eventually reinstated, with Roblox calling the ban “incorrect”.

“Roblox is committed to providing a safe and civil platform for our players, including blocking memes that represent or are synonymous for behaviour that falls outside of our community standards,” it said in a post on its developer forums.

“In December, ‘pewdie’ became one of these negative memes on Roblox. As such, we began blocking the creation of new usernames that incorporated the term.

“The legacy account that PewDiePie used in his livestream was incorrectly banned as part of the administration of this policy.”

PewDiePie took the whole affair in his stride.

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Others hit in the crossfire

Even before PewDiePie made a video announcing the ban, several people took to social media after they noticed a “purge” on anything related to the YouTuber.

Some claimed that items purchased in-game which featured PewDiePie branding had been removed from their accounts.

Others said that they had received bans for writing “subscribe to PewDiePie” in the game’s chat.

And Roblox player Rogos, who features in PewDiePie’s video, said that his account was disabled simply for writing “hi PewDiePie” when he saw the popular YouTuber in-game.

The “pewdie” meme

Meanwhile, some of the game’s players have questioned the authenticity of the “pewdie meme”.

“I have never seen anything like that on Roblox,” said KonekoKitten in a YouTube video. “Back in 2018, in December, not once did I see it.”

It may refer to the “subscribe to PewDiePie” messages that became ubiquitous with the latter part of last year.

Various paid adverts appeared in Roblox at the time urging people to subscribe to his YouTube channel, with some even reporting receiving direct messages about it.

But others have suggested that even if this ban was accurate, it would be next to impossible to follow as they were not aware of it.

“The ‘pewdie’ ban is not in the rules,” said Ericzona on Twitter. “Why was there no public warning for this ban?”

It is not clear whether users will face sanctions in the future for discussing PewDiePie in the game platform’s chat.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News

Elon Musk's 'malicious' AI too dangerous to release

An artificial intelligence system developed by Elon Musk’s OpenAI organisation is too dangerous to be released, the group believes.

OpenAI is a non-profit research organisation founded in 2015 with $1bn in backing from Mr Musk and others to promote the development of artificial intelligence technologies that benefit humanity.

The system its researchers have developed, officially called GPT-2, can generate text as it would naturally occur in language and has been released in part.

However researchers are withholding the fully-trained algorithm “due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology”.

“The model is chameleon-like, it adapts to the style and content of the conditioning text,” claimed the researchers, and included a number of examples to show how it worked.

To work, the algorithm is fed text of a variable amount and then outputs sentences based on its predictions of the material that should naturally follow next.

This means it appears to be capable of writing legitimate-looking news articles, potentially introducing the risk of people producing fake news to a theme being able to produce their fake content at scale.

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OpenAI believe the technology has several large policy implications.

In positive news, the researchers believe the technology could be used to develop AI writing assistants, dialogue agents – such as conversational interfaces for voice assistants – and aid with language translation and speech recognition.

However, the harms could be significant too. Because of the algorithm’s ability to copy the style it had been trained on, it could be used to impersonate others online and generate misleading news articles.

It could also automate the production of abusive or fakes content to post on social media, as well as the production of spam and phishing content.

“These findings, combined with earlier results on synthetic imagery, audio, and video, imply that technologies are reducing the cost of generating fake content and waging disinformation campaigns,” say the researchers.

“The public at large will need to become more sceptical of text they find online, just as the ‘deep fakes’ phenomenon calls for more scepticism about images.”

The company’s chief technology officer, Greg Brockman, posted one particularly convincing bit of text that OpenAI claimed its original algorithm produced and which one of the employees posted by the recycling bin.

Previously, Mr Musk has criticised Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg for having a “limited” understanding of artificial intelligence in a spat over the potential dangers of advances in the field.

Mr Musk, alongside scientists such as Stephen Hawking, warned of the potential moment at which artificial intelligence develops the ability to redesign itself.

They warned that if this happens there could be an intelligence explosion as the machine rapidly redesigns itself before humankind could even catch up.

Many researchers fear that this could potentially lead to human extinction.

This story was originally published on Sky News Technology

Malta’s leading bank resumes operations after cyberheist-induced shutdown

Bank of Valetta, which went dark for a day after the fraudulent transfers of €13 million, is now looking to get the money back

Things are going back to normal for Bank of Valetta (BOV) and its customers following a cyberattack that caused Malta’s largest bank to take the unprecedented step of temporarily shutting down all its services.

On Wednesday morning, BOV found out that unknown attackers had made fraudulent transactions from the bank to financial services providers in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Hong Kong. The heist, of around €13 million (US$14.6 million), even prompted a reaction from Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who said that customer funds were not touched and, indeed, were never in danger.

The theft came to light “during reconciliation of international transactions when discrepancies in eleven payments were noticed”, wrote The Times of Malta. Shortly thereafter, BOV was alerted by the country’s Security Service that the bank had been targeted by a cyberattack originating from outside the Mediterranean island.

It has been reported that, within 30 minutes after learning that something was amiss, the bank suspended its services and began to work on retrieving the funds. Naturally, the incident also prompted what the bank has called “rigorous overnight testing” of its IT systems. With the tests deemed successful, the bank restored most of its systems and services on Thursday, as well as its website and mobile app, and re-opened office branches and ATMs.

According to Reuters, the bank has also yet to determine where the intrusion came from and how it happened. Besides other unknowns surrounding the attack, another question has yet to be answered: Where’s the money and, indeed, will it be retrieved?

In their latest coverage, local media quote the bank’s chief business development officer Kenneth Farrugia as implying that while the money has been traced, its recovery is a different thing altogether.

“We know where the money went and into which banks but what happened at that touchpoint we do not have the visibility to know,” said Farrugia for The Times of Malta. “It’s not simply a matter of asking the banks for the money to be reversed. It does not work like that and there are banking procedures that have to be implemented,” he added, without shedding light on whether all the money will, or even can, actually be retrieved.

Per Reuters, BOV accounts for nearly one-half of Malta’s banking transactions. Most shares in the financial services provider, which is also Malta’s oldest, are held by the country’s government.

Bank jobs

Cyberheists are nothing new, of course, and we have previously written about thefts targeting banks in Bangladesh, India and Russia, and Mexico. In 2016, ESET researchers Anton Cherepanov and Jean-Ian Boutin wrote a paper about attacks at Russian financial institutions while, in 2018, ESET researcher Miguel Ángel Mendoza weighed in on the theft in Mexico.

We also wrote last year about how US banks are preparing for a scenario involving a particularly devastating cyber-intrusion.

15 Feb 2019 – 02:29PM

This story was originally published on We Live Security by Eset

Ad code 'slows down' browsing speeds

Ads are responsible for making webpages slow to a crawl, suggests analysis of the most popular one million websites.

The research by developer Patrick Hulce looked at which chunks of code take longest to load.

About 60% of the total loading time of a page was caused by scripts that place adverts or analyse what users do, he found.

But using ad-blockers may not be the best way to avoid delays and speed up the loading of webpages, he said.

Bad blocks

Mr Hulce gathered data from both desktop and mobile versions of popular sites on which he sampled programs written in the Javascript language. This is typically used by developers to make sites interactive and also helps them display ads or log what users click on.

He found that the Javascript code helping Google place ads on pages and analyse user activity bestowed the longest delays on visitors. The Javascript behind Google ads and its analytics system were found on the largest number of sites in the million sampled, Mr Hulce told The Register news site.

If used together on a site, these can add more than two-thirds of a second to loading times, he found.

There were some ad-serving scripts written in Javascript that imposed longer delays, but these were used on a much smaller proportion of sites, the analysis found.

The worst offender was the WordAds script for WordPress blogs that, all by itself, can delay the arrival of an entire page by up to 2.5 seconds.

Not all delays were down to ads and analytics, said Mr Hulce. Other factors such as network delays and big file sizes for some content could also contribute to slow loading times.

In addition, he said, greater use of ad-blocking programs may not always improve browsing speeds.

Ad-blockers can end up “triggering convoluted workaround logic and complex disguising of ads that increase script execution time”, he told The Register.

This story was originally published on BBC Technology News