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How to stop people from mining cryptocurrency on your computer

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency vampires are among us! They are also nowhere near as cool as they sound. Here’s how to stop sites from jacking your processor cycles when they shouldn’t.

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cryptocurrency mining

Cryptocurrency! It is a thing. At the moment, that’s about all that can be said on the subject of Bitcoin and pals. With the current boom and/or bubble in Bitcoin, any statement on cryptocurrency beyond “it exists” is doomed to the depths of grinding, pedantic Internet debate, plus the occasional crazy person shouting about it being a) our salvation; b) the downfall of the West; c) both.

Which sucks, because there’s something you need to know if you’re involved with web design, cryptocurrency, or just don’t like strangers futzing with your things. Hackers can swipe your computer’s processing power to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge or consent.

By itself, cryptocurrency mining isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a necessary thing. Blockchains are distributed: they get the processing power they need to function from any available computers on their chains. As an incentive to keep processor cycles available, the computer that completes a given task receives a small bonus in the blockchain currency. “Mining” just means going out of your way to be that computer, typically by having as much processing power available as possible.

But in the glorious Age of the Cloud (which, protip, may not last much longer) “processing power” doesn’t always mean “giant wheezing plastic rectangle.” Finding novel sources for those sweet, sweet processor cycles is proving to be a smart way for lots of folks to monetize. Popular websites, for instance (we wrote about a rather notorious one) have already incorporated in-browser mining scripts into their business model. Their offer is that, instead of suffering through ads or big sad-eyed donation requests, users will be able to proffer a few otherwise unused processor cycles for cryptocurrency mining for as long as they’re on the page.

Alas and as always, clever ideas don’t only work for nice people. The black hat is here, and as ever, it will fill your digital life with fail.

Per Lifehacker, malicious miner scripts are becoming distressingly common. WIRED calls it “cryptojacking,” nefarious instructions added to the source code of websites without the owner’s knowledge, in order to harvest cryptocurrency on the backs of users. No informed consent, no warm glow in the knowledge that you’re both helping your favorite website and skipping your least favorite algorithmically generated YouTube ad. Just some gross code you can’t see, taking irritating little bites out of your computing experience. Grats, black hats: you’ve digitally recreated bedbugs.

Thankfully, they’re not even good bedbugs. Real bedbugs are nuke-it-from-orbit hard to kill. These things are pushovers. Fixes are plentiful and simple. A free adblocker like Adblock Plus automatically disables Javascript, where most of the nasties live. If you want to get more hands-on, new extension NoCoin lets you curate a list of sites you do and don’t allow to bum a few cycles for crypto mining.

To some degree, cryptojacking is yet another instance of the price of progress. In-browser miners show real promise as a new way to monetize web content, which is, to say the least, a fraught process at the moment. The fact that sketchy people want to steal money with it is, in its horrible way, a vote of confidence in in-browser mining and cryptocurrency generally. Thieves go where the money is, after all.

But one thing is sure – they are things. People like to have things, particularly when they’ve paid money for them. On that non-contentious point, I have terrifying news – oh my God(s) you guys people are taking your things.

Well. Sort of. They’re using your computer to mine cryptocurrency without your permission.

Before we get into it, I have a brief complaint to register. I was a 90s kid. I never got my jetpack or flying car, but I’m kind of OK with that. I’d just crash and die anyway. But I was promised better hackers.

These guys aren’t precisely stealing from you. What they’re doing is more like sneaking into your house while you sleep, booting up your computer, then just going nuts on Excel for 10 hours straight.

Here’s the deal.

People are making things like the things you have, and they’re doing it without permission. Cryptocurrency mining, whatever you may have heard to the contrary, is not in itself A Bad Thing. It’s just A Thing, a necessary component of blockchain technology: the necessary processing power gets distributed among interested parties. A few processor cycles here, a few there, and the ledger is sustainable.

That’s all “cryptocurrency mining” is: using multiple processors on a network to do the computing tasks necessary to maintain a cryptocurrency. “Cryptocurrency miners,” usually just “miners,” are people or organization who commit serious processing power to the cause.

So remember – if you don’t want sites using your computer power to earn cryptocurrency for themselves, get in on adblockers and NoCoin. Even though it’s really not a big deal (unlike my lack of a jetpack – I lied, I care).

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Tech News

The paradox of CAPTCHAs: Too smart for humans vs AI?

(TECH NEWS) AI is catching up to our cybersecurity technology and often tricking humans too — so what’s next for CAPTCHAs and the internet?

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Person using phone with laptop to verify CAPTCHAs and code.

We’ve all encountered it before: The occasional robot test that feels impossible to beat. If you’ve felt like these tests, also known as CAPTCHAs, have gotten harder in the last couple of years, you aren’t wrong—and the reason is as ironic as it is baffling.

Simply put, AI are just as good as—and often better than—humans at completing CAPTCHAs in their classic format. As machine learning and AI become more advanced, the fundamental human attributes that make consistent CAPTCHA formats possible become less impactful, raising the question of how to determine the difference between AI and humans in the future.

The biggest barrier to universal CAPTCHA doctrine is purely cultural. Humans may share experiences across the board, but such experiences are typically basic enough to fall victim to the same machine learning which has rendered lower-level CAPTCHAs moot. Adding a cultural component to CAPTCHAs could prevent AI from bypassing them, but it also might prevent some humans from understanding the objective.

Therein lies the root of the CAPTCHA paradox. Humans are far more diverse than any one test can possibly account for, and what they do have in common is also shared by—you guessed it—AI. To create a truly AI-proof test would be to alienate a notable portion of human users by virtue of lived experience. The irony is palpable, but one can only imagine the sheer frustration developers are going through in attempting to address this problem.

But all isn’t lost. While litmus tests such as determining the number of traffic cones in a plaza or checking off squares with bicycles (but not unicycles, you fool) may be beatable by machines, some experts posit that “human entropy” is almost impossible to mimic—and, thus, a viable solution to the CAPTCHA paradox.

“A real human being doesn’t have very good control over their own motor functions, and so they can’t move the mouse the same way more than once over multiple interactions,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, a former click fraud expert from Google. While AI could attempt to feign this same level of “entropy”, the odds of a successful attempt appear low.

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Tech News

Move over, Clubhouse: Slack adds their own audio chat rooms

(TECH NEWS) Slack planning to co-opt Clubhouse’s synchronous audio rooms has lead to mixed response. Did it really need to be done?

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Woman in green cardigan and headphones listening to audio chat room on mobile, where Slack becomes a competitor.

Slack is adding a synchronous audio chat room feature similar to what Clubhouse already has. While not everyone is happy about it, the addition is true to Slack’s ongoing form—if a little redundant.

Slack’s audio rooms would work similarly to Clubhouse’s current feature of the same persuasion. The rooms themselves would be ongoing for as long as they were open, and users would be able to drop in and out of calls at their leisure, even joining the conversation when permitted by the host or settings. In theory, it’s a cool way to round out Slack’s platform and make for yet another way for people to engage during the work day.

But not everyone is stoked about the addition. Pocketnow’s Nadeem Sarwar makes a strong point about the redundancy of adding a Clubhouse feature to the already-packed Slack deck: “…from a regular remote worker’s perspective, I’d rather use services such as Telegram, Discord, or Google Meet that we’ve grown accustomed to using for jumping into a group call with my teammates.”
“…[T]he need for audio chatrooms to get in a chaotic chat with colleagues, with whom you already chat over work and share memes five days a week, doesn’t make much sense,” he adds.

Sarwar also references research about remote meeting fatigue from Stanford and The Washington Post, positing that—since video conferences are already played out at this point—adding another quasi-conference option to Slack doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

He isn’t wrong. There are multitudinous conference options on the market now, many of which are free. One could argue that Slack, having marketed itself as a text-first communication hub, has no business entering the audio chat landscape.

That argument falls on its face when you consider Slack’s model—something both Sawar and the Slack CEO himself mention—involves “stealing” and implementing “good ideas” from others in order to make their own platform as comprehensive as possible. If one is able to use Slack for the majority of tasks that Google, Discord, and Clubhouse offer, that makes the platform a lot more attractive to users who are on the fence.

And, perhaps more importantly, it ensures that current users won’t migrate to a comparable platform in the future—especially if their colleagues are making the same choice.

It’s a smart move for Slack, especially given Clubhouse’s lack of Android support at this time—something Clubhouse has said probably still won’t launch for a couple of months.

The Clubhouse team, for their part, continues to add new features in efforts to maintain the platform’s upward mobility. One such feature is the option for paid subscriptions to content creators, allowing for people to monetize their presence on the platform. At the time of this writing, Clubhouse is valued at around $1 billion.

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Tech News

An industry first: IBM launches quantum developer certification program

(TECH NEWS) Developers with quantum computing skills can now prove they’ve mastered the subject with IBM’s first-ever Quantum Developer Certification.

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Quantum developer looking out of the window with a three monitor setup open to various coding programs.

Last week, IBM announced its first-ever developer certification for programming quantum computers, which is also the quantum industry’s first.

“Our team is extremely proud to be able to offer the first-ever quantum developer certification,” a company blog post read. “We hope its availability will provide a valuable learning path for developers and stakeholders looking to prepare themselves for quantum computing in the future.”

The IBM Quantum Developer Certification focuses on IBM’s software tools, specifically Qiskit, their open-source software development kit for quantum computing. Launched in 2017, Qiskit already has over 600,000 installs. And, it’s being used by developers to develop apps, improve code, and participate in hackathons and summer schools.

While the Quantum Developer Certification is the only quantum certification IBM offers now, it won’t be the last. IBM says it is “the first of several in a series of certifications.” This is part of the company’s quantum development roadmap to build a “diverse, global, cloud-based ecosystem of developers who can bring quantum computing skills to their own communities and industries.”

Offered through the Pearson VUE platform, the Quantum Developer Certification exam is 60 questions long. The exam will test a developer’s competency in the fundamentals of quantum computing concepts. Also, it will examine if a person can use Qiskit SDK from the Python programming language to “create and execute quantum computing programs on IBM quantum computers and simulators.”

This certification is exciting for the quantum community because it will officially demonstrate a person’s mastery of quantum computing. And, for the most part, I think most of us can agree that certifying your skills looks good on resumes, and it shows employers you’re serious about your career. However, getting one can be costly. Currently, IBM doesn’t have any scholarships in place, but they say they are working on rolling one out to those who are interested in getting certified.

Along with the certification, IBM is also supporting educators to prepare the future quantum workforce. They are giving educators access to IBM Quantum tools through their Quantum Educators Program and semester-long quantum computing course, Introduction to Quantum Computing and Quantum Hardware, and its free Qiskit digital textbook.

According to a report, quantum computing is predicted to become a $65 billion industry by 2030, and IBM wants to help companies “get their workforce quantum ready” for when it does.

“With our IBM Quantum Developer Certification, IBM Quantum is offering a path for people with all development backgrounds to earn a certification in programming with Qiskit, allowing them to leverage their quantum coding skills into a potential opportunity in this exciting new workforce,” the company blog post read.

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