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The Future of Spying – Chemically Created Passwords

The safety of many countries depends on their ability to defend themselves during times of war, which often requires transporting secret messages. Each country has their own spies that are responsible for obtaining and transferring this information securely. As technology has advanced, much of this secret information is stored in password protected systems. Computers often generate these passwords which makes it possible for them to be hacked. This has caused ongoing research to develop secure ways of hiding information physically. One of these is chemical cryptography, which involves creating passwords made from atomic structures.

Although not currently on the market, the technology shows immense potential. Messages would be secured by coding them in the form of small molecules, that would be absorbed by a napkin. They could only be decrypted using the key, which would be the molecule’s structure. The method has been developed by German company Karlsruher Institut fur Technologie. Their molecular library has at least 500,000 keys that, because of their structural diversification, would be impossible to decode without the sample. The message can also only be revealed after being scanned with the same equipment used by microbiologists to analyze new compounds in their research. Researchers plan on expanding the technology to including DNA which would increase the number of keys that could be made, making passwords even more secure.

The small size of molecular keypad locks also makes them difficult to detect. This is a form of steganography, where both the locks and keys are hidden. This technology was first developed in 2007, with the possibility of only one password being used per lock. Researchers have recently found ways to allow locks to have multiple passwords, according to a study published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. Most florescent molecular sensors generate discreet optical signals but the one used was able to generate a unique optical ‘fingerprint’ for each chemical, making it possible to differentiate between them.

This inclusion enables the system to operate like both an electronic keypad lock, which can be opened by entering the correct password, and a biometric lock, opened by recognizing a unique signature (such as a fingerprint). Electronic locks have accessible entry keys, placed on the keypad, and can be opened by anybody that knows the password. Biometric locks are more secure as each user carries their own key. The molecular keypad lock would require both a password and optical fingerprint and would increase security even more, as the key is chemical and the correct password would need to be entered.

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Blockchain Technology and its Implications for the Future

The use of cryptocurrency is rapidly growing worldwide, with the cost of Bitcoin continuing to increase, and its foundation is based on blockchain technology. In traditional financial systems, currency is controlled by the government, or state, through various institutions, including banks. Using this system, they keep track of the distribution of currency in a centralised ledger. Blockchain technology eliminates this centralization by operating through a network of nodes, or computers. This allows the ledger to be managed by the collaboration of these nodes, each of which has a downloaded copy of the entire chain that is constantly being updated. Whenever data is moved, all links checks to ensure that it is authorized, stopping fraudulent activity in its tracks. Any transaction that is taking place needs to be approved by all nodes, before it will be added to the chain.

The fundamental purpose of blockchains is to distribute their ledgers across a decentralized network of nodes, replacing the need for a centralized third party to verify transactions. This method enables thousands of copies of the ledger to be stored, across all the nodes, ensuring that a single point cannot be targeted by hackers. In addition, it makes it possible for anybody with a computer, and internet access, to become a part of the ledger’s maintenance.

Blockchain technology is also used to create new cryptocurrency. The nodes on the network group the most recent transactions together, packaging this data into a block which is then added to the current chain. The entire network receives this broadcast, adding it to the information already stored in the node. This process of confirming a transaction is referred to as ‘mining.’ The operation of nodes is an expensive process, and two incentives are given to those that run one on the network. The first miner to solve the cryptographic puzzle necessary to parcel together the most current block receives a reward, as well as a fee, paid by the sender, from each transaction it bundles into a block.

By decentralizing currency, blockchain technology and ‘mining’ gives a chain of people the power to introduce new money into the economy. It also presents the opportunity for them to manage the currency currently controlled by the banks, and other appointed systems. ‘Mining’ is crucial in determining that there is value to the new currency being introduced, because of the costs associated with the running of the nodes. This idea of money being stored outside of government control is appealing, especially in countries where state finances are unpredictable. Although the technology is in its infancy, there is the high possibility that its use will expand before long, as more people are beginning to trust the system and move away from government control.

The Mars Helicopter – First Flying Rover on the Red Planet

Mars 2020 is a rover mission scheduled to be launched by NASA in July 2020. Although like previous missions, in which a ground covering rover has been left to explore the planet, this one will be transporting additional cargo. A small, autonomous rotorcraft will be onboard, called the Mars Helicopter, which has been specially designed to explore the planet from a bird’s eye view. This will be the first airborne vehicle to traverse the planet, and scientists are hoping that it will provide some insight into the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles on Mars. The helicopter is also expected to scan the planet for signs of life, find ideal landing zones on its surface, identify potential problems that might arise for future visitors and assist the ground rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, in their geological research.

The Mars Helicopter project began in August 2013, and design and testing lasted four years. The aircraft weighs 1.8 kilograms, has a fuselage the size of a softball and roto blades that move at a speed of 3000 rpm (ten times faster than those of a helicopter on Earth). The team’s design had to make allowances for the difference between our planet and Mars. The helicopter has been equipped with a heating mechanism, to keep it warm in the extremely cold temperatures that Mars experiences at night, as well as solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries. The atmosphere on the Red Planet is one percent of Earth’s so the helicopter will be flying at the equivalent of an altitude of 100,000 feet, as opposed to the highest helicopter flight in our atmosphere being 40,000 feet. To be able to achieve this, the aircraft was designed to be as light as possible while being as strong as possible.

The mission is scheduled to arrive on Mars in February 2021, where the helicopter will be deployed from the transport rover and placed on the ground. After its battery has been charged and several operational tests performed, the transport vehicle will then drive to a safe distance from which to issue commands. Although they will be sent at the speed of light, any instructions from Earth will take several minutes to reach the helicopter. During its first 30 days on Mars, the helicopter will have five different flight missions. The flights will gradually increase in time and distance, with the first lasting 30 seconds, at 20 feet off the ground.

As the first airborne rover on the planet, the Mars Helicopter will also help to determine if the planet can be inhabited, as well as search for signs of life, either past or present. It has been equipped with instruments to identify and collect rock and soil samples, encase them in sealed tubes and leave them on the planet’s surface. NASA hopes to retrieve these samples in future missions, so they can be returned to Earth to be studied.

Future Computer Memory – Replacing RAM and ROM

Everything in a computer’s memory takes the form of binary digits (BITS). Each one is stored in a memory cell that can have two values, zero and one. Files and programs are comprised of these bits and are processed in the central processing unit, CPU, which is the computer’s ‘brain.’ Like a human’s, it has both long-term, to store things permanently, and short-term memory, for immediate tasks. These two types of computer memory are:

Random Access Memory (RAM) – This acts as a system’s short-term memory, from which it can quickly access data. This data is lost when the device shuts down, however. RAM is also responsible for our ability to run programs, through which data can be retrieved and modified, or new data made. The length of time it takes for the system to do this is called the memory’s ‘latency.’ To process and access data quickly, the information can be retrieved in any order. The data only remains in the RAM while the device is on.

Dynamic RAM (D-RAM) is the most common type of RAM, in which each memory cell consists of a transmitter and a capacitor to store electrical charges. The memory is referred to as dynamic because it is only held briefly before it leaks away and needs to be charged periodically to retain data.

Another type of RAM is Static RAM (S-RAM), which is made up of 6 interlocking transistors that don’t need to be refreshed. S-RAM is the fastest memory in a computer system.

Read Only Memory (ROM) – This is a system’s long-term memory and is responsible for the booting up of devices. Data must be stored in a device’s ROM to be kept long-term. There are currently three types of ROM, which all have less than a ten-year storage guarantee because of the breakdown of the materials used.

The cheapest and most common is magnetic storage, which imprints data on a disc coated with magnetic film.

Optic storage, such as DVDs, is a second option and encodes BITS as light and dark spots, which are read by a laser.

Solid state drives, such as USB drives, are the newest and fastest long-term storage option. These use floating gate transistors to store BITS, by trapping or removing electrical charges within their internal structures.

The number of BITS that need to be stored is growing continuously, and scientists are trying to develop other cost-effective ways to store them. This includes making memory devices at the quantum level to ensure that they are faster, smaller and more durable. Scientists from Fudan University, in Shanghai, have published a study in Nature Nanotechnology detailing a type of computer memory that can perform both long and short-term memory functions. The technology would also let the user decide how long the data should be stored for, creating enhanced features and bespoke devices. Researchers are currently unsure when the product will be debuted, but anticipate it becoming a serious competitor against RAM and ROM.

Electric Charging Roads – Recharging during your Journey

The number of electric vehicles on the road has increased exponentially over the last few years. This is mainly a result of environmental concerns and governments becoming more focused on finding sustainable energy sources. Sweden has recently become the first country to install a section of the road that can recharge the batteries of vehicles as they drive along it. The project consisted of embedding 2 km of electric rail, in a location near Stockholm, and is in accordance with the country’s plans to stop using vehicles that run on fossil fuels by 2030. The government has already drafted a map to install more electric charging roads to keep the batteries of electric vehicles affordable, as well as to prevent them from losing their charge during a journey.

The length of the road extends from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to a logistics site outside the capital city. Vehicles can be charged by energy being transferred from two tracks of rail in the road, using a movable arm attached to their undercarriage. This would be automatically disconnected if a vehicle stops or is overtaking another one. The electric charging road is currently divided into sections of 50m, each of which is only powered on when a vehicle is directly overhead. Citizens that take advantage of the service will be billed based on the energy consumption of their vehicle. The first vehicle to use Sweden’s ‘dynamic charging’ facilities was a truck owned by logistics firm, PostNord, which previously ran on diesel.

eRoadArlanda oversaw the project’s completion and has ensured the public that the country’s roads, as well as the vehicles currently being driven on them, could be adapted to take advantage of the technology. Sweden plans to install the technology in the 20,000km of highways that the country has. This would provide enough power to recharge any vehicle traveling in the country, as the longest distance between highways is 45km and all electric vehicles can travel that far without the need to recharge. Each km of the electric road cost U$1.2 million to install, but the government has estimated this to be 50 times less than the installation of a tram line. They also guarantee the roads’ safety, as the electricity is located five or six centimeters below the surface.

In addition to expanding within their own country, the Swedish government is making plans to provide Berlin with a similar network in the future. Other countries have already made the investment for public vehicles, including Israel which has installed roads to power their electric buses. The technology would currently not be applicable to most countries, due to the condition that many of the roads are in and the unlikely need for most vehicles to recharge during their journey. The inflated cost of installing these roads is also a deterrent. For Sweden and heavy-duty vehicles, such as the PostNord truck, EV charging roads are an ideal, convenient solution, however.

Cyber Attacks – A Growing Threat to Technology

In a society where technology dominates, cybercrime is already a big problem, and growing continuously. Cyber-attacks are particularly dangerous because they can be done from anywhere in the world, and the perpetrators are rarely caught. Many of these take place against large companies, or financial institutions, that have detailed information about their clients. Once their data is accessed, individuals may have difficulty getting their lives back on track. Organizations are becoming aware of the need to keep their customers’ information as safe as possible, by putting as much cyber security in place as they can.

Cyber-attacks require extensive knowledge of an organization’s systems, and between 50 and 80% of them have access to insider information. A significant percentage of cybercrime is accomplished by phishing emails, of which the most successful are Spear Phishing. These emails are careful crafted to appear like they are coming from a legitimate source, such as known company executives, and may include detailed information about the person and their job. These sophisticated attacks often require multi-pronged responses. After a cyber-attack, major companies have suffered reputational damage which can be just as devastating. Companies are finding that as their technology increases, they also have to employee increasing cyber security measures which may offset profits.

Cyber-attacks may also extend further than personal information, compromising the national security of the country. Governments have also begun taking extensive measures to ensure that attacks do not get passed their security. Methods that were previously reserved for authoritarian regimes, such as a ‘national firewall,’ are being employed. Governments, large corporations and advanced academics are also combining forces to increase cyber security. In addition to businesses and governments, there are other potential cyberthreats, including evidence of hackers aiming attacks directly at the companies that provide critical internet infrastructure, putting the entire internet at risk if they are successful.

Most cybercrime takes place using malicious software that attacks computers, through various methods, which includes:

Viruses – This software is found in file downloads or email attachments and attaches itself to another file or program and reproduces. When the attachment is clicked, or the download started the file duplicates itself and is sent to all contacts.

Worms – This type of software is capable of being spread without the help of another file or program. It can also collect and send data to a specified location using information about the network it’s on. Worms are often the cause of cyber attacks on a large scale as they spread through the entire network.

Trojan Horses – An attack that normally looks perfectly legitimate, so many aren’t aware of the breach, until it goes into action.