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What Information is Hiding in Your Boarding Pass?

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Frequent flyers are familiar with the embedded 2D barcode that appears on any boarding pass, whether it’s issued on a flimsy piece of paper or scanned through your smartphone. Whichever method you prefer to utilize—high-tech or old-school—you can be sure that the airline is taking note of the information that’s contained within that barcode.

In a recent article published on KrebsOnSecurity, reporter/computer security expert Brian Krebs investigated just what kind of personal information those barcodes reveal about a passenger. In 2005, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a mandate to replace magnetic strips with bar-coded boarding passes (BCBP) for travelers around the globe, and by 2010 they had completed that task. As the IATA's website states, barcodes “offer more convenience for the passenger. Because they don’t need to be printed on expensive paper stock and facilitate off-airport check-in, they save the industry up to $1.5 billion every year.” 

If you want to see what personal data is actually stored in your barcodes, Inlite Research’s website allows you to upload pictures of your boarding pass (as well as your driver’s license, military ID, postal barcode, and QR codes) and decodes it, using HTML. The results aren’t exactly shocking: Your name, seat number, departing and arriving airports, sequence number (what number person were you to board), record locator, and frequent flyer number are revealed to whomever reads the barcode. And while it’s hardly the type of secure personal information that could lead to identity theft, you do leave yourself open to some limited information exposure if you happen to leave your boarding pass in your seat pocket, like so many of us do, or throw it in the trash after deplaning—particularly when it comes to your frequent flyer number.

Using this number (which can and should be kept private), it would be simple for anyone to log into your account and gain access to your contact information and future flights. Yes, they’d first have to know your password, but this can be changed rather easily as they have the frequent flyer number itself and can bypass a security question. (Getting into your account would also give them the power to cancel or change any upcoming flights.)

Another blog, Fusion, researched Krebs’ post and contacted various airlines as to why one’s full frequent flyer number appears in the barcode, but no representative would give a definitive answer. “Barcodes are not inherently secure or insecure,” Inlite Research’s vice president of marketing told Fusion. “Barcodes are a dumb way to package information into an image. The nature of the information is up to the people who use it. Most barcodes are boring.”

For those who prefer to err on the safe side while traveling this holiday season and beyond, it’s best to use your smartphone at check-in so that you don’t have to worry about someone lifting secure information from a paper boarding pass—and moving you right next to the lavatory for your next flight.

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People With Limited Mobility Can Now Use Amazon Alexa to Control Exoskeletons
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One of the challenges that comes with engineering exoskeletons that compensate for limited mobility is giving control to the people who wear them. Some systems use hand controls, while others can detect faint signals in the wearer’s muscles and respond accordingly. Now one exoskeleton startup is taking advantage of a technology that’s become mainstream in recent years: voice recognition.

As Engadget reports, Bionik Laboratories has integrated Amazon’s Alexa into its ARKE lower-body exoskeleton. The apparatus is designed for people with spinal chord damage or a history of stroke or traumatic brain injury that has hindered their movement below the waist. After strapping into the suit, wearers will now be able to use it just as they would a television set or stereo enabled with Alexa. Saying “Alexa, I’m ready to stand,” brings the joints to an upright position, and the command “Alexa, I’m ready to walk” prompts the legs to move forward. An Amazon Echo device must be within hearing range for the voice control to work, so in its current state the exoskeleton is only good for making short trips within the home.

Compatibility with Alexa isn’t the only modern feature Bionik worked into the design. The company also claims that ARKE is the first exoskeleton with integrated tablet control. That means if users wish to adjust their suit manually, they can do so by typing commands into a wireless touchpad. The tablet also records information that physical therapists can use to make more informed decisions when treating the patient.

Before the ARKE suit can be made available to consumers, it must first undergo clinical trials and receive approval from the FDA. If the tests go as planned Bionik hopes to have a commercial version of the product ready by 2019.

[h/t Engadget]

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The Most Popular Emojis Around the World
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Emojis may be the closest thing we currently have to a universal language. But even between English-speaking countries, emoji-texting habits can vary greatly.

HighSpeedInternet.com recently conducted an international survey on emoji usage and used the data to make the map below.

Of the nine English-speaking countries they studied, all nine chose the basic smiley emoji as their favorite pictograph. The second-place symbols are where interesting trends start to appear: For example, respondents in Jamaica, Trinidad, the UK, and the U.S. are all partial to the teary-eyed laughing emoji. Love is also a popular theme. Texters in Canada like sending one heart, while in New Zealand they prefer two. But not every country is so wholesome: In Ireland, the most popular emoji message behind a smiley face is a double poop.

They also determined that different countries have different interpretations of the same images; while everyone seems to greet that the kissing heart face means "love you," where some countries see an innocuous food image like an eggplant or a peach for exactly what it is, other countries have a less PG-rated view of them. (Learn more about their findings here.)

HighSpeedInternet.com

It should come as no surprise that emojis are loved in the U.S., where residents report including them in over half of all text messages. Besides Trinidad, all other countries included in the survey reported using emojis in less than 25 percent of texts. For a more localized look at visual texting trends, check out this map of the most prevalent emojis in each state.

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