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On Salmon, Trout, and Chat

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Several friends of mine have reported strange chat sessions over the past few months. The chats are a form of mediated communication between strangers that seems either like a prank or an art project (or perhaps both). The scenario generally goes like this:

1. A chatbot (posing as a human) starts up a conversation via AOL Instant Messenger (or another chat service). Some bots (like TheGreatHatsby) use a single, distinctive opening line like, "I say, old bean, have you seen my hat?" while others use a randomized statement intended to spark a conversation.

2. Unbeknownst to the first user, the chatbot has also initiated a similar chat session with another user.

3. When both randomly targeted users reply (generally with a statement along the lines of, "Who is this??"), the chatbot connects both bewildered users via some behind-the-scenes magic, and bizarre chats ensue.

Because to both users it appears that the other user initiated the chat session, confusion is common in the first lines of the chat -- but very often, it settles down into an actual conversation between two complete strangers. Here are the first few lines of a chat session from a Livejournal user who was recently contacted by the RegretfulCoho bot:

[01:18] RegretfulCoho: Hi.
[01:19] thesquidflu: Hi!
[01:19] RegretfulCoho: lol What's up
[01:19] thesquidflu: not much!
[01:19] thesquidflu: How about you?
[01:19] RegretfulCoho: Not much at all, who is this by the by?
[01:20] thesquidflu: I'm... Brandon! Who's this?
[01:20] RegretfulCoho: Brandon who?
[01:20] thesquidflu: [last name redacted]
[01:20] RegretfulCoho: Do I know you from somewhere?
[01:21] thesquidflu: I... I don't know!
[01:21] thesquidflu: hehe
[01:21] thesquidflu: where didja get my aim?
[01:21] RegretfulCoho: You just now msg'd me
[01:21] thesquidflu: You messaged me first, according to my aim!
[01:22] RegretfulCoho: Ok
[01:22] RegretfulCoho: Is this a bot program?
[01:22] thesquidflu: Nope!
[01:22] thesquidflu: hahahah
[01:22] thesquidflu: :D
[01:22] thesquidflu: I'm a real boy!

The chat continues for almost half an hour, as the users collaboratively try to figure out what's going on, and eventually land on the Wikipedia page explaining the phenomenon. These chatbots are often called Salmon bots (the "Coho" referenced in the chat log above is a species of salmon) or Trout bots, as the bots themselves adopt various fishy names and implement different strategies for passing messages. Some of the bots actually filter the conversations, removing screen names and words related to bots. Others simply connect two users and let the chat happen.

A Livejournal community has formed around this phenomenon, called themissinghat. Users post their experiences, including chat logs -- some are filled with profanity and confusion, others are just friendly chats between strangers. You can now even request a Salmon bot connection, in case you want to try out the randomness for yourself. Wow.

Have you been chatted up by a fishbot? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Use Wi-Fi? Your Device Is at Risk in the Latest Security Breach
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Another day, another way our personal data is being compromised. This time, the latest threat to your credit card numbers, social security information, and other personal data comes from a more-than-ubiquitous source: your Wi-Fi.

As Ars Technica and The Independent report, a computer security researcher has discovered a major issue with Wi-Fi that can be used to decrypt your data. The vulnerability is the result of weakness in the WPA2 protocol that secures modern Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can steal sensitive data that has been decrypted a method called KRACK, or Key Reinstallation Attacks. While we can't know yet if hackers have actually taken advantage of the vulnerability, its existence puts every Wi-Fi-enabled device at risk.

“If your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected,” Mathy Vanhoef, the Belgium-based researcher who discovered the exploit, said. That means your phone, your computer, and even your Wi-Fi light bulbs. The hacker only needs to be within range of your Wi-Fi—not logged into your network—to take advantage of it and steal your data. However, Ars Technica reports that Android and Linux users are more vulnerable to severe attacks than Windows or iOS users.

What should I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, changing your passwords won’t help this time around. All you can do is wait for security updates for your devices. In the meantime, treat every Wi-Fi connection like it’s the public network at Starbucks. As in, don’t go sharing all your personal data. You can make yourself safer by using a VPN. According to cybersecurity expert Robert Graham, these kind of attacks can’t defeat VPNs.

Most companies will no doubt be releasing security patches to fix this issue ASAP, so keep a look out for any available updates.

[h/t The Independent]

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Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Hoversurf

Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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