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The Autofrisk: All the Groping Action, Just 40 Pence

Cheeky engineer Tim Hunkin (of Secret Life of Machines fame) invented the Autofrisk, a device that gently gropes the user in exchange for a few coins. (In the U.K. apparently one cannot get this experience for free at local airports.) The Autofrisk is one of many coin-operated machines Hunkin built for an ongoing show under the Southwold Pier in Suffolk, which looks to me to be a kind of geek Mecca.

Hunkin and compatriots made a ten-minute film about the process of making the Autofrisk and similar machines. It's called Trial & Error, and it's about how Hunkin designs his machines as he goes along, adapting as he discovers limitations in the materials rather than designing everything in the abstract beforehand. For example, the Autofrisk was originally designed to have nine inflated hands groping at once (!); that had to be reduced to three after he tested the amount of air necessary to inflate all those gropers.

Hunkin says the machine has "never taken as much money as some of the others, as you have to be quite bold to try it with other people watching you." At 40p (about $0.62), it seems a bargain to me -- probably the most robotic groping a person can get for the money. You can read more about the Autofrisk or watch this lovely little documentary about it:

If you don't have ten minutes, here's a short video of a lady experiencing the Autofrisk for the first time:

Hunkin also sells a DVD containing tons (sorry, tonnes) of videos of his wonderful machines.

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The Unexpected Word That Shows Up on Every Hacked-Password List
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Every year, security-focused companies like SplashData release lists of the year's most hacked passwords, inevitably prompting us to ask, "Why would you make your password password?" In 2017, the most popular passwords list included longtime mainstays like 123456, qwerty, and, of course, password.

We get it, people aren't creative when they're coming up with their thousandth password. But WIRED (warning: paywall ahead) alerts us to one mainstay password that stands out from the pack, one that appears regularly on hacked password lists but has none of the obvious origins of passwords like hello or login. People love to make their password—drum roll, please—dragon.

WIRED investigated just why so many internet users use dragon to unlock their accounts, taking the question to password experts and security researchers.

Part of the reason, the magazine found, might just be related to the biases of these lists. They pull from leaked data from hacked sites, a dataset that doesn't always represent everyone on the internet. Depending on the user base of those hacked sites, the passwords also might represent specific groups (say, young dudes) who have more of a tendency to shout their love of fantastical winged reptiles from the rooftops.

The sites that get hacked and have their password data leaked to the world may not have had great security controls in the first place, either. Users might not have had to come up with extra numbers and special characters when generating a password. And the single-word dragon isn't as difficult for hackers to decode as some other passwords, so it's liable to be leaked. According to Keeper Security, many hackers can break a seven-digit password made up of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers in 10 seconds. Since dragon has already proved itself to be so popular, a hacker will probably go ahead and test that one out early.

Several people told WIRED they have used dragon as a password for years, just because, you know, they liked dragons. If you're a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, or, maybe even How to Train Your Dragon, dragon might be a super simple password to remember. And, because most people don't change their passwords as often as they should, you probably use it over and over again.

A similar reason might explain why words like football, monkey, and starwars often appear on these lists [PDF] year after year as well. People love football, monkeys, and Star Wars. Unfortunately, so do hackers.

Read the full rundown of why people love dragon—and why it's not a great way to protect the pile of gold that is your online data—here. As always, we will leave you with this reminder: Get a password manager. You don't want to end up as an embarrassing statistic on a password-shaming list.

[h/t WIRED]

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Why Browsing in Incognito Mode Isn’t as Private as You Think
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There are plenty of reasons to try to shield your web activity from prying eyes. You might not want your internet provider to know you’re illegally downloading Game of Thrones. You might not want your employer to see that you’re looking at job boards. Unfortunately, private browsing mode won't help you there, contrary to what many internet users think. Although what you do in private mode doesn’t save in your browser history, it isn't entirely hidden, either, and your activity can still be tracked, according to The Independent’s Indy100.

The site highlights research recently presented at a web privacy conference in Lyon, France, which shows that many people have significant misconceptions about what private browsing really means and how it can shield your information. The survey of 460 people, conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Germany’s Leibniz Universität Hannover, found that even when browsers warn users that all their data won’t be hidden when using private browsing mode, most people still come away with major misunderstandings about what will and won’t be hidden about their activity. According to the paper [PDF]:

"These misconceptions included beliefs that private browsing mode would prevent geolocation, advertisements, viruses, and tracking by both the websites visited and the network provider. Furthermore, participants who saw certain disclosures were more likely to have misconceptions about private browsing’s impact on targeted advertising, the persistence of lists of downloaded files and bookmarks, and tracking by ISPs, employers, and governments."

While incognito mode doesn’t store your browsing history, temporary files, or cookies from session to session, it can’t shield you from everything. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see your activity. If you’re logged into your company or school’s Wi-Fi, your boss or school administrators can still see what you’re doing on that network. And if you’re on a site that isn’t secure, incognito mode won’t keep other users on your network from tracking you, either.

According to Chrome developer Darin Fisher, Google tried to make this fairly clear from the outset with incognito mode. In 2017, Fisher told Thrillist that the Chrome team intentionally decided to steer clear of the word “private” so that people would understand that their activity wasn’t totally invisible to others.

Using a VPN along with incognito mode can help anonymize your browsing, but your ISP will still be able to tell when you connect and disconnect, and the VPN company may log some information on your activity, depending on its terms. Overall, it’s just very hard to hide your online activity completely.

Private browsing is useful if you’re using someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with logging out of their email or social media accounts. It can help you shield your significant other from seeing all the engagement rings you’ve been browsing online. And yeah, sometimes—though we don’t condone this!—you can use it to get around a site’s paywall. But it’s never going to completely hide what you do online.

[h/t Indy100]

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