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Watch 24 Hours of Internet Activity Around the World in 8 Seconds

By Peter Weber

Behold, the internet. In about eight seconds, you can watch a whole day's worth of internet activity around the world, with the higher activity in reds and yellows and the wave shape showing where it's day and night.

The map was put together by an anonymous researcher in a self-styled "Internet Census 2012." Why isn't he or she taking credit for this remarkable feat of cyber-cartography? The data came from infecting 420,000 computers with automated, web-crawling botnets — and "hacking into 420,000 computers is highly illegal," says Adam Clark Estes at Vice.

What are we actually seeing, and how sketchy is its provenance? The researcher, using the 420,000 infected devices, tried to figure out how many of the world's 3.6 billion IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses are active; roughly speaking, he got responses from 1.2 billion devices around the world. The map shows the average usage of each device each half hour.

The map isn't totally comprehensive: His botnet, called Carna (after "the Roman goddess for the protection of inner organs and health"), only infected Linux-based devices with some user name–password combination of "root," "admin," or nothing. Also, the world is slowly switching to IPv6, and Carna doesn't measure those devices — in fact, he says, "with a growing number of IPv6 hosts on the internet, 2012 may have been the last time a census like this was possible." At the same time, "this looks pretty accurate," HD Moore, who used ethical and legal means to conduct a similar survey of smaller scope but larger timeframe, tells Ars Technica.

That said, it's a snapshot of 2012, with a limited shelf life. "With cheap smartphones taking off in Africa and $20 tablets popping up in India, the world is becoming more connected by the minute," says Vice's Estes. "So in a few years' time that confetti-colored map of the world above will look less like a chart of privilege and more like an acid trip of progress."

As for the ethics of this census, let's call it "interesting, amoral, and illegal," says Infosecurity Magazine.

The [botnet] binaries he developed and deployed — it's difficult to call them malware since they had no mal-intent; but it's difficult not to call them malware since they were installed without invitation — were designed to do no harm, to run at the lowest possible priority, and included a watchdog to self-destruct if anything went wrong. He also included a readme file with "a contact email address to provide feedback for security researchers, ISPs and law enforcement who may notice the project." [Infosecurity]

And if we're being charitable, you could argue that he performed a public service by highlighting how poorly protected our computers, routers, and other internet-connected devices are. Here's a "crude physical analogy" for what the researcher did, says Michael Lee atZDNet: By himself, he would have been like "a burglar who walks from house to house in a neighborhood, checking to see whether anyone has forgotten to put a lock on their door."

With an opportunistic attack, given enough "neighborhoods" and enough time, one could potentially gain an insight into how poorly protected people are. However, with the burglar being a single person, doing so would take them a prohibitively long time — unless, theoretically, they were able to recruit vulnerable households and send them to different neighborhoods to do the same.... The Carna botnet... highlighted just how many people left their metaphorical front doors unlocked by using default passwords and user logins. [ZDNet]

Still, if this researcher were caught in the U.S., he'd "likely be slapped with one violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for every computer breached and face something like 50 consecutive life sentences for the sum total," says Vice's Estes. "I'm being sightly facetious here but only slightly." So why take that risk? To see if it could be done, basically.

Building and running a gigantic botnet and then watching it as it scans nothing less than the whole internet at rates of billions of IPs per hour over and over again is really as much fun as it sounds like. I did not want to ask myself for the rest of my life how much fun it could have been or if the infrastructure I imagined in my head would have worked as expected. I saw the chance to really work on an internet scale, command hundred thousands of devices with a click of my mouse, portscan and map the whole internet in a way nobody had done before, basically have fun with computers and the internet in a way very few people ever will. I decided it would be worth my time. [Internet Census 2012]

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Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Design
Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer
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In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animals that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

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