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CAPTCHAs aren’t as secure as we thought

(TECH NEWS) CAPTCHA once the lead the way in internet security but now they can be solved by bots, just like everything else.

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voice and SEO

We’ve all been online, trying to purchase some tickets for a show or log into Facebook when that obnoxious box pops up asking us to prove we’re not a robot by just clicking a checkbox or typing in some letters.

Most commonly we see a CAPTCHA, which is a rough acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart (yeah, CAPTCHA is easier).

So you roll your eyes, type the letters, occasionally cursing under your breath wondering why you have to do something so trivial just to post on your wall or send out that subtweet you’ve been stewing on.

Well, this may not be so simple anymore. According to research recently published in Science magazine, scientists have now have found a way to build an AI that can actually read the CAPTCHA’s you see in your browser AND break the test, allowing them to access a site despite being, well, a robot.

This is not unprecedented; around a decade ago Ticketmaster sued a company that was able to bypass its CAPTCHA system to buy tickets in bulk. That case, however, appeared to be simply an exploitation of a Ticketmaster’s defenses.

The claim is that this new tech will be able to break down the CAPTCHA by deconstructing the text in a much more complex and thorough way, with less specific instructions.

Scientists have been working with AI to try to give it the ability to think like a human (oh no) and they do this using a technique called deep learning. This process is about teaching the AI to look through layers of information, taking each new finding and applying it to its next layer, learning and remembering each time.

This informs the AI’s next decision, and so on. This all, as we’ve seen in films and on television for years, is just a way to get AI to “think” as much like a human brain as possible.

While this isn’t quite to the interrogating-a-possible-replicant level (see Blade Runner), this could be a huge security concern for web developers moving forward. According to a study done with this new AI, the model “was able to solve reCAPTCHAs at an accuracy rate of 66.6% …, BotDetect at 64.4%, Yahoo at 57.4% and PayPal at 57.1%.”

Time to start paying for things with cash again, am I right?

All this research is not only for learning how to break into websites, but for learning how the human’s think and applying that knowledge to building code that will function as closely as possible to the human brain.

Companies like Google have already moved on from basic CAPTCHA’s and it’s hard to say what impact this new discovery will actually have on information security, but this is just the way technology is moving.

While those CAPTCHA’s may be annoying, I’m willing to put in a couple extra seconds to prove I’m human. If AI continues to get smarter, so will the tests that determine who is human or not.

Will hails from Northern California, earned a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University, and now calls Austin, Texas home where he works at a tech startup. He likes riding his bike an ungodly amount of miles and his favorite aesthetic is an open road. If you see him around he'll likely be reading a classic American novel and drinking a Topo Chico.

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Tech News

Further – the hybrid B2B and B2C startup providing all-in-one learning

(TECHNOLOGY) The Further app “filters” the web to find new skills for a daily dose of badge-earning learning. Consider it your personal learning library!

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There are a ton of resources dedicated to online learning, but the Further app “filters” the web to find new skills for a daily dose of badge-earning learning. Consider it your personal learning library in the palm of your hand. The Further app works to create a continuous learning experience for all, including students, employees, and trainees in a variety of industries.

“We grant intelligent access to high-quality educational content for everyone.”

Educational environments, such as schools and universities, can benefit from weaving in informal learning, increasing engagement. Consultants can use Further to increase their personal knowledge, but also provide professional knowledge to their clients. Safety and health training manuals can be completed in the app for manufacturing, food and beverage, healthcare, retail, and more. Lastly, software and tech employees can keep ahead of the trends by using the Further app.

How it works: Users can choose and collect content from multiple online sources to support their personal or professional skills. The app allows users to automate learning between family, friends, coworkers, and more through groups. Lastly, users are provided with reports to track their learning progress and are given rewards for completing items. Further uses AI to provide personalization through its own learning algorithm – the more it knows the user – the higher quality of educational suggestions it gives related to their goals.

In addition to the above, the Further app implements specific features to create a seamless learning experience. The app comes with a curated dashboard with feed customization, optimized for the users’ specific needs. The content center is bursting with resources that allows you to be in command of your education. In-app and push notifications can be enabled for reminders to complete tasks or grant access to updated trends in the news. And as with any great digital product startup, the Further app allows users to give feedback based on their experiences – you can submit ideas or future requests at their public Trello board (pretty cool if you ask me).

Request early access, download the mobile app, or try out the web extension for Chrome on desktop.

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Tech News

How psychologists are using VR to profile your personality

(TECH NEWS) VR isn’t just for gamers. Psychologists are using it to research how people emotionally respond to threats. But does it come at the cost of privacy?

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Man using VR in personality test.

When you put on a VR headset for the first time, most people have that ‘whoa’ moment. You’ve entered an enchanting otherworldly place that seems real, but you know it isn’t. You slowly tilt your head up to see a nicely lit blue sky. You turn your head around to see mountains and trees that weren’t there before. And, you finally look down to stare at your hands. Replaced by bright-colored gloves, you flex your hands to form a fist, then jazz hands, and back.

Playing VR games is exciting and interesting for a lot of gamers, and you would (or maybe wouldn’t) be surprised to know that psychologists think so, too. According to The Conversation, psychologists have started researching how people emotionally respond to potential threats using VR.

Do you think this is weird or cool? I’ll let the following help you decide.

So, why did psychologists think using VR would help them in their research?

In earlier studies, psychologists tested “human approach-avoidance behavior”. By mixing real and virtual world elements, they “observed participants’ anxiety on a behavioral, physiological, and subjective level.” Through their research, they found that anxiety could be measured, and “VR provokes strong feelings of fear and anxiety”.

In this case, how did they test emotional responses to potential threats?

For the study, 34 participants were recruited to assess how people have a “tendency to respond strongly to negative stimuli.” Using a room-scaled virtual environment, participants were asked to walk across a grid of translucent ice blocks suspended 200 meters above the ground. Participants wore head-mounted VR displays and used handheld controllers.

Also, sensors placed on the participants’ feet would allow them to interact with the ice blocks in 2 ways. By using one foot, they could test the block and decide if they wanted to step on it. This tested risk assessment. By using both feet, the participants would commit to standing on that block. This tested the risk decision.

The study used 3 types of ice blocks. Solid blocks could support the participant’s weight and would not change in appearance. Crack blocks could also support the participant’s weight, but interacting with it would change its color. Lastly, Fall blocks would behave like Crack blocks, but would shatter completely when stepped on with 2 feet. And, it would lead to a “virtual fall”.

So what did they find?

After looking at the data, researchers found out that by increasing how likely an ice block would disintegrate, the “threat” for the participant also increased. And, of course, participants’ behavior was more calculated as more cracks appeared along the way. As a result, participants opted to test more blocks before stepping on the next block completely.

But, what else did they find?

They found that data about a person’s personality trait could also be determined. Before the study, each participant completed a personality questionnaire. Based on the questionnaire and the participants’ behavior displayed in the study researchers were able to profile personality.

During the study, their main focus was neuroticism. And, neuroticism is one of the five major personality traits used to profile people. In other words, someone’s personality could now also be profiled in a virtual world.

So, it all comes down to data and privacy. And yes, this isn’t anything new. Data collection through VR has been a concern for a long while. Starting this month, Facebook is requiring all new Oculus VR owners to link their Facebook account to the hardware. Existing users will be grandfathered in until 2023.

All in all, VR in the medical field isn’t new, and it has come a long way. The question is whether the risk of our personality privacy is worth the cost.

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Tech News

Amazon backtracks on hybrid return-to-work plan, allows work from home

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon retracts its original statement proposing a hybrid work schedule and is now open to allowing employees to work from home indefinitely.

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Samsung photo with amazon app loading page.

Let’s face it, companies can’t make up their mind regarding remote work. One week it’s this, the next week it’s that. Somehow, even though they have been running smoothly while working from home in the midst of the pandemic, employees are now suddenly considered to be “twiddling their thumbs.”

 

Following in the footsteps of other FAANG companies, in March 2021, Amazon said that their “plan is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to invest, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”

What a stark contrast from the newest proposition: “At a company of our size, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best” said Jassy, the now CEO of Amazon.  

Multi-member Zoom call on a Apple Mac laptop with a blue mug of black coffee next to it.

Contradictory, but admirable! Before this most recent announcement, Amazon was going to require all corporate works to adhere to a hybrid schedule of 3 days in office, unless otherwise specified. The hybrid work plan was set to begin in September 2021.

Now, the decision falls into the individual team’s hands and employees will be evaluated based on performance, despite where they choose to work. However, the underlying preference is to be located at least within reasonable distance to their core team’s office in order to come in on short notice.

“The company expects most teams will need a few weeks to develop and communicate their respective plans.”

Once plans are more finalized, Amazon will share specific details prior to January 3rd, 2022 – the date they initially planned for everyone to return to the office. Even though they may be a little indecisive, compared to Facebook, Apple, and Google, they’re actually being more flexible.

Finger snaps for the king of two-day shipping.

Now you have an excuse to pop open Amazon.com on a new private tab, while working from home, and buy a little something to celebrate. Seems counterintuitive to what we’re trying to prove here, but it’s necessary. Treat yo’self!

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