GeekSpeak for 2015-10-24

Warrant-less Flashing Kills Drone’s Battery

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California has a new privacy law, Flash has a huge problem, and Siri can be hacked. Also Facebook’s iOS app sucks battery life, quantum gravity experiment is possible, Apple vs University of Wisconsin-Madison and some more geeky weekly news.

Machine Learning update: An algorithm can predict human behavior better than humans

It’s fairly common for machines to analyze data, but humans are typically required to choose which data points are relevant for analysis. In three competitions with human teams, a machine made more accurate predictions than 615 of 906 human teams. And while humans worked on their predictive algorithms for months, the machine took two to 12 hours to produce each of its competition entries.

For example, when one competition asked teams to predict whether a student would drop out during the next ten days, based on student interactions with resources on an online course, there were many possible factors to consider. Teams might have looked at how late students turned in their problem sets, or whether they spent any time looking at lecture notes. But instead, MIT News reports, the two most important indicators turned out to be how far ahead of a deadline the student began working on their problem set, and how much time the student spent on the course website. These statistics weren’t directly collected by MIT’s online learning platform, but they could be inferred from data available.

Adobe Flash Player Security Vulnerability: How to protect yourself

Just one day after Adobe released its monthly security patches for various software including Flash Player, the company confirmed a major security vulnerability that affects all versions of Flash for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. You read that correctly… all versions. Adobe said it has been made aware that this vulnerability is being used by hackers to attack users, though it says the attacks are limited and targeted. Using the exploit, an attacker can crash a target PC or even take complete control of the computer.

And now for the fun part: The only way to effectively protect yourself against this serious security hole is to completely uninstall Flash Player from your machine.

Getting Rid of Flash - a how-to

How to Enable Click-to-Play Plugins in Every Web Browser

Most web browsers load Flash and other plug-in content as soon as you open a web page. Enable “click-to-play” plug-ins and your browser will load a placeholder image instead — click it to actually download and view the content.

ClickToPlugin & ClickToFlash Safari extensions

For Safari “ClickToPlugin is a lightweight and highly customizable extension that prevents Safari from launching plug-ins automatically”

Flashblock :: Add-ons for Firefox

For Firefox “Never be annoyed by a Flash animation again! Blocks Flash so it won’t get in your way, but if you want to see it, just click on…”

Flashcontrol - Chrome Web Store

For Chrome “Prevents Flash content from loading unless you allow it.”

Gov. Brown Signs CalECPA

After months of pressure from public interest groups, media organizations, privacy advocates, tech companies, and thousands of members of the public, California’s elected leaders have updated the state’s privacy laws so that they are in line with how people actually use technology today. 

CalECPA protects Californians by requiring a warrant for digital records, including emails and texts, as well as a user’s geographical location. These protections apply not only to your devices, but to online services that store your data. Only two other states have so far offered these protections: Maine and Utah. 

Facebook now notifies you if you’re the target of a state-sponsored attack

Facebook is now issuing warning messages to users if it strongly suspects that an account is being targeted by a hacker working for a nation state. The message (pictured above) also recommends that users turn on “Login Approvals,” which means accounts can only be accessed using stronger two-factor authentication.

iPhone battery problems? Check your settings for Facebook battery usage

Facebook’s iPhone app is consuming large amounts of battery charge even when it is not open, users have complained.

Users say the app records long periods of background activity, even when settings such as background refresh are disabled.

Facebook said it had heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with its iOS app. “We’re looking into this and hope to have a fix in place soon,” it added.

Point-and-shoot weapon stops drones without destroying them

This can be achieved with DroneDefender, a recently made available “gun” that uses radio control frequency disruption technologies to safely stop drones in the air, before they can pose a threat to military or civilian safety.

The tool is a point-and-shoot system, and has a range of some 400 meters. It gains control of the drone, immobilizing it so no remote action can occur. It does so by either disrupting remote control or GPS navigation.

The drone then either lands in the vicinity or flies back to its starting point, and effectively suffers no damage.

Hackers Use Head phones and Voice Commands to control phones

A pair of researchers at ANSSI, a French government agency devoted to information security, have shown that they can use radio waves to silently trigger voice commands on any Android phone or iPhone that has Google Now or Siri enabled, if it also has a pair of headphones with a microphone plugged into its jack. Their clever hack uses those headphones’ cord as an antenna, exploiting its wire to convert surreptitious electromagnetic waves into electrical signals that appear to the phone’s operating system to be audio coming from the user’s microphone. Without speaking a word, a hacker could use that radio attack to tell Siri or Google Now to make calls and send texts, dial the hacker’s number to turn the phone into an eavesdropping device, send the phone’s browser to a malware site, or send spam and phishing messages via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

A New Experiment May Determine Whether Gravity Is Quantized

Experimentalists are bringing increasingly massive systems into quantum states. They are now close to masses where they might be able to just measure what happens to the gravitational field.

Apple Loses Patent Battle with University

Apple Inc could be facing up to $862 million in damages after a U.S. jury on Tuesday found the iPhone maker used technology owned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s licensing arm without permission in chips found in many of its most popular devices.

The jury in Madison, Wisconsin also said the patent, which improves processor efficiency, was valid. The trial will now move on to determine how much Apple owes in damages.