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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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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.

Tech News

App turns your phone into an intercom, great for remote teams

(TECH NEWS) Turn your phone into an intercom with one quick switch without having to install anything on any wall. #NewSchool

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Growing up, I lived in a blended family home. It was essentially like The Brady Bunch just without Alice and the general merriment.

Us kids would often keep to ourselves in our bedrooms and would sometimes communicate with our parents via phone – even though we were under the same roof. While I’m acknowledging that it was incredibly lazy, it was convenient.

It helped to cut out the fruitless, across-the-house conversations that would often result in miscommunications. In those times, I wished there had been an intercom system in the house.

This is no longer a problem for people to have as an app has been created that sets up an instant voice network. It was designed for work use or communication with people outside of the home, but this piece of machinery would’ve been very helpful in the Leddin household.

The app is called Switchboard and it creates an intercom for your friends and colleagues. Like a phone, there is a friend/contact list available or you can dial using voice command.

The nice thing about this compared to a regular phone call is that there are availability settings. You can control interruptions by “switching off” to go on Do Not Disturb mode, and it will not list you as available for calls.

Switchboard uses Slack integration that allows users to leave voice messages and automatically have them sent to Slack with a transcript.

“Switchboard is your instant voice network. It gives you a hands-free intercom between close friends and colleagues to let you chat more spontaneously, as though you’re in the same room,” explains developers.

“You control your availability so that you’re easy to reach when you want and you can focus when you need.”

The idea is to make it easier to communicate more efficiently, rather than using text messaging; though most smartphones do have a voice messaging component. While they refer to the app as an “intercom” it definitely reminds me more of walkie talkies, (similar to Voxer which is a walkie talkie app for team communication).

Switchboard is an interesting concept, and is something that could benefit teams that work remotely (or are too lazy to yell down the hall to another office).

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Uber has secretly set up tip limits for drivers #classy

(TECH NEWS) Uber has had a shaky year, but their latest move proves that perhaps a new leader doesn’t mean a new culture.

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After frequent requests from drivers, Uber finally added a tipping option to their ride-sharing app this June. But, after a few months to try it out, riders and drivers alike have been disappointed to discover that Uber puts an upper limit on how much a rider can tip.

Lyft has allowed riders to tip for almost five years, but Lyft too has a tipping maximum. In many cases, Lyft and Uber drivers aren’t aware that there’s a limit to tips until they have a generous customer who finds that they can’t tip as much as they’d like.

Initially, these apps were seen as a convenient, tip-free alternative to traditional cab services. However, because fares are calculated in mileage and not time, tips can be especially appreciated when rides take a long time but have low mileage, such as in dense traffic, or when the driver has to make multiple stops. And of course, tipping is always a great way to say thanks to a driver who goes the extra mile (no pun intended) to help out the rider or make the ride especially pleasant.

Unfortunately, some riders have found that they can’t tip as much as they’d like. Uber told CNET that they placed a maximum on tips to help avoid “fat fingers” typos, such as when a customer means to type $10, but accidentally types $100 instead – a problem that could seemingly be solved by adding a secondary confirmation before withdrawing the payment.

Uber limits tips to 200 percent of the cost of the ride, or $100. Lyft also limits to 200 percent of the fare, but also blocks tips above $50. Of course, riders can always tip in cash – but not having to carry cash was one of the perks of ride-sharing apps in the first place.

Generally, drivers for Lyft get more tips than Uber drivers. That’s because Lyft riders receive a prompt to tip upon reaching their destination, whereas Uber drivers have to reopen the app and rate the driver before tipping. Since few Uber riders take the time to rate their driver, even fewer ever make it to the tip screen.

Granted, an extra big tip is a rare and precious thing. But it shouldn’t be up to the company to cap tips if riders feel compelled. Says Denise, a Los Angeles Uber driver, “Generosity should be something that you have no limit on.”

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Tesla to build largest ‘virtual power grid’ on this round Earth

(TECH NEWS) Tesla teams up with Australia to create a virtual power grid, cutting energy costs and preventing blackouts.

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Tesla’s teaming up with Australia to provide an energy efficient solution to blackouts and price surges in the Southern Australian state.

Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill announced a new partnership with Tesla that will provide solar panels and batteries to homes in the southern state. Since the area consistently struggles with adequately powering homes, Weatherill and Tesla hope to create a “virtual” power grid to stabilize electricity infrastructure.

In the extreme wilderness area of South Australia, nearly half of all power comes from wind farms. Last September, issues with wind farms caused a statewide blackout. Sure, tornadoes were to blame too, but backup generators also failed, so the whole system collapsed.

To address this issue, a combination of solar panels and Tesla batteries will eventually be installed in 50,000 homes in the state. Any surplus energy generated by the home’s solar panels can contribute back to the larger grid.

Excess energy can be routed back to a centrally controlled grid to provide energy to the rest of the state as needed.

For the initial test, 1,100 public housing properties will receive the batteries and solar panels free of cost, using the sale of electricity to cover expenses. An additional 24,000 more public houses will get added to the program as well.

If the trial runs succeed, private homes will be included by 2019. Eventually, the plan is to have batteries and panels installed in 50,000 homes, creating a 250MW Virtual Power Plant.

Participating homes will have 5kW solar panels and Tesla Powerwall 2 13.5kWh batteries installed, providing a more reliable source of power, and potentially lowering power bills by thirty percent.

Installation is proposed to take four years, and according to Tesla, the virtual power plant will have as much capacity as a coal plant or large gas turbine.

Funding comes from a $2 million Australian ($1.6 million USD) grant, and a loan from the state’s Renewable Technology Funds for $30 million Australian ($23.8 million USD).

While the plan seems well-meaning, Austalian Prime Minister Malcomlm Turnbull called Weatherill’s previous strategies as “reckless” experiments, leading to excessive energy costs. Partnering with Tesla may give Weatherill some street cred for the upcoming South Australian election, proving he has a game plan for curbing energy costs.

According to the South Australian government, the virtual power plant could provide around twenty percent of the state’s daily average energy requirements. Tesla plans to review all properties to determine if the homes can support their systems and be able to participate.

If you happen to live in South Australia and are reading this, you can register to participate in the program. Registration doesn’t guarantee participation, but if initial interest exceeds original estimates, the government may consider extending the program.

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