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How Dan Kaminsky Saved the (Online) World

Dan Kaminsky is a supergeek in Seattle. He's a computer security expert, using the typical superpowers of network packet analysis, free WiFi from Starbucks, and a job at Microsoft. But last January, Kaminsky's Spidey Sense tingled: he had discovered a flaw in the Internet's DNS (Domain Name System), the globally distributed system that translates human-readable names like www.mentalfloss.com into machine-accessible addresses like 208.67.108.220. Wired details what happened next:

Kaminsky froze. This was far more serious than anything he could have imagined. It was the ultimate hack. He was looking at an error coded into the heart of the Internet's infrastructure. This was not a security hole in Windows or a software bug in a Cisco router. This would allow him to reassign any Web address, reroute anyone's email, take over banking sites, or simply scramble the entire global system. The question was: Should he try it?

The vulnerability gave him the power to transfer millions out of bank accounts worldwide. He lived in a barren one-bedroom apartment and owned almost nothing. He rented the bed he was lying on as well as the couch and table in the living room. The walls were bare. His refrigerator generally contained little more than a few forgotten slices of processed cheese and a couple of Rockstar energy drinks. Maybe it was time to upgrade his lifestyle. ...

In the months that followed, Kaminsky's dangerous discovery rallied DNS experts worldwide to the cause. Together they organized a "massive multivendor patch," an update to the software from effectively every major DNS software vendor. Read the awesome story and be awed. Sample sentence: "The first thing I want to say to you," Vixie told Kaminsky, trying to contain the flood of feeling, "is never, ever repeat what you just told me over a cell phone."

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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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technology
AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
iStock
iStock

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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