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JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images
JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images

Norway's New Doomsday Vault Is Designed to Store Data for Eternity

JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images
JUNGE, HEIKO/AFP/Getty Images

When the apocalypse comes, the Svalbard islands of Norway might hold the only surviving vestiges of human civilization. The Arctic archipelago is home to the Global Seed Vault, an 11,000-square-foot underground repository (seen above) that preserves hundreds of thousands of seeds from all over the world in case of a catastrophic plant extinction. Now, a new kind of vault has opened up next door in a former coal mine that belongs to the Norwegian government, as Gizmodo reports.

The Arctic World Archive is designed to hold data, not seeds, storing historical and sensitive information on micrographic film created by Piql, a Norwegian preservation company. The film is then stored in a physical box deep in the vault, designed to be retrieved and read by anyone in the future, even if the original technology used to read and write the file (say, a PDF) is no longer in use. It’s a highly secure library designed to keep certain documents and data available for the foreseeable future, through whatever environmental disasters, cybersecurity attacks, or world wars might come in the next 500 to 1000 years.

In one of its brochures for the archive, Piql argues that keeping an analog version of important documents in a remote place is necessary in today’s digital world:

In a world threatened with more and more cyber attacks, digital espionage, data manipulation and electronic warfare, having valuable and critical information stored on a system independent of specific technologies and kept in a secure and safe location becomes more and more relevant.

The Arctic World Archive is an offline data vault that ensures the most sensitive and irreplaceable data to be protected for the future. Located in a disaster-proof vault, the information is kept in permafrost conditions far away from political and physical instabilities in the rest of the world.

While the files can be read online, the physical film can only be accessed by ordering it to be brought up from inside the vault. The microfilm cannot be overwritten, so whatever was first recorded on it cannot be manipulated by anyone who subsequently handles it.

The pace of technology moves at such a rapid clip that even data created a few decades ago might be largely unreadable to the public—how do you retrieve data from a floppy disc when no computers have those drives anymore? The idea here is that this micrographic film (Piql representatives describe it like QR codes written on film) will be able to outlast the original technology used to create the file. It’s the 21st century equivalent of carving runes onto stone.

The Brazilian and Mexican governments have already put copies of their constitutions and other historic national documents—some dating back to the 16th century—in the archive.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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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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