Blog

Not Big Brother, but close: a surveillance expert explains some of the ways we’re all being watched, all the time

Ausma Bernot, Griffith University A group of researchers studied 15 months of human mobility movement data taken from 1.5 million people and concluded that just four points in space and time were sufficient to identify 95% of them, even when the data weren’t of excellent quality. That was back in 2013. Nearly ten years on, surveillance technologies permeate all aspects of our lives. They collect swathes of data from us in various forms, and often without us knowing. I’m a surveillance researcher with a focus on technology governance. Here’s my round-up of widespread surveillance systems I think everyone should know

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Can machines invent things without human help? These AI examples show the answer is ‘yes’

Toby Walsh, UNSW Sydney and Alexandra George, UNSW Sydney The question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) can invent is nearly 200 years old, going back to the very beginning of computing. Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace wrote what’s generally considered the first computer program. As she did, she wondered about the limits of what computers could do. In 1843 Lovelace wrote, in regard to what is arguably the first general purpose programmable computer: The Analytical Engine has no pretensions to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has

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How far has nuclear fusion power come? We could be at a turning point for the technology

Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak in Oxfordshire, UK. Courtesy of MAST, CC BY-SA Nathan Garland, Griffith University and Matthew Hole, Australian National University Our society faces the grand challenge of providing sustainable, secure and affordable means of generating energy, while trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to net zero around 2050. To date, developments in fusion power, which potentially ticks all these boxes, have been funded almost exclusively by the public sector. However, something is changing. Private equity investment in the global fusion industry has more than doubled in just one year – from US$2.1 billion in 2021 to US$4.7 billion

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The ChatGPT chatbot is blowing people away with its writing skills. An expert explains why it’s so impressive

Marcel Scharth, University of Sydney We’ve all had some kind of interaction with a chatbot. It’s usually a little pop-up in the corner of a website, offering customer support – often clunky to navigate – and almost always frustratingly non-specific. But imagine a chatbot, enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI), that can not only expertly answer your questions, but also write stories, give life advice, even compose poems and code computer programs. It seems ChatGPT, a chatbot released last week by OpenAI, is delivering on these outcomes. It has generated much excitement, and some have gone as far as to suggest

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When it comes to delivery drones, the government is selling us a pipe dream. Experts explain the real costs

Hannah Smith, The University of Western Australia and Julia Powles, The University of Western Australia In early November, the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure invited public comment on proposed Australia-wide “drone delivery guidelines” it has been quietly developing with industry stakeholders. A slick new website – drones.gov.au – boasts of the supposed benefits of delivery drones. It claims they will create jobs, provide cost-efficiency and be environmentally sustainable. The draft guidelines focus on minimal technical considerations concerning land-use planning (suggesting no special accommodations need to be made for drones), and safety and noise issues. These issues matter, but they entirely overlook

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How hiring more women IT experts improves cybersecurity risk management

Camélia Radu, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and Nadia Smaili, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) https://narrations.ad-auris.com/widget/the-conversation-canada/how-hiring-more-women-it-experts-improves-cybersecurity-risk-management Despite the contributions women have made to the information and technology field, they continue to be underrepresented. Ada Lovelace, for example, was the world’s first computer programmer. Grace Murray Hopper developed the first compiler. And Hedy Lamarr co-invented the modern spread-spectrum communication technology, which is found in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS technology. Today, the leading figures in the IT field are all men. Although 39 per cent of the board members of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies are women, all the chairpersons

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North Korea’s nuclear program is funded by stolen cryptocurrency. Could it collapse now that FTX has?

James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University Since the world’s second-largest crypto exchange, FTX, declared bankruptcy earlier this month, the flow-on effects have been felt far and wide. But among the many victims are also some not-so-innocent parties. For the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a country facing heavy sanctions, cryptocurrency theft has been a (relatively) simple way to fund the country’s expanding nuclear arsenal. It’s well documented that Kim Jong-un’s military operation hackers have been stealing cryptocurrency to support North Korea’s nuclear and missile program for several years. But with the general downturn in the crypto market, coupled with the

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What do we know about REvil, the Russian ransomware gang likely behind the Medibank cyber attack?

Andrew Goldsmith, Flinders University Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw on Friday confirmed police believe the criminal group behind the recent Medibank cyber attack is from Russia. Kershaw said their intelligence points to a group of loosely affiliated cyber criminals who are likely responsible for past significant breaches in countries across the world. Kershaw stopped short of naming any individuals or groups. But experts suspect the attackers belong to, or have close links to, the Russian-based ransomware crime group, REvil. The attack so far involves a multimillion-dollar ransom demand made to the medical insurer for data on individual clients stolen

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Ransomware gangs are running riot – paying them off doesn’t help

Jan Lemnitzer, Copenhagen Business School In the past five years, ransomware attacks have evolved from rare misfortunes into common and disruptive threats. Hijacking the IT systems of organisations and forcing them to pay a ransom in order to reclaim them, cybercriminals are freely extorting millions of pounds from companies – and they’re enjoying a remarkably low risk of arrest as they do it. https://embed-player.newsoveraudio.com/v4?key=x84olp&id=https://theconversation.com/ransomware-gangs-are-running-riot-paying-them-off-doesnt-help-155254&bgColor=F5F5F5&color=D8352A&playColor=D8352A At the moment, there is no coordinated response to ransomware attacks, despite their ever-increasing prevalence and severity. Instead, states’ intelligence services respond to cybercriminals on an ad-hoc basis, while cyber-insurance firms recommend their clients simply pay

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Should cyberwar be met with physical force? Moral philosophy can help us decide

Christopher J. Finlay, Durham University In conventional warfare, it’s accepted that if a state finds itself under attack, it’s entitled to respond – either with defensive force, or with a counterattack. But it’s less clear how countries should respond to cyber-attacks: state-backed hacks which often have dangerous real-world implications. https://embed-player.newsoveraudio.com/v4?key=x84olp&id=https://theconversation.com/should-cyberwar-be-met-with-physical-force-moral-philosophy-can-help-us-decide-158463&bgColor=F5F5F5&color=D8352A&playColor=D8352A The 2020 SolarWinds hack, attributed to state-backed Russian hackers, breached security at around 100 private companies. But it also infiltrated nine US federal agencies – including the US Energy Department, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Such attacks are expected to become more common. Recently, the UK’s 2021 Strategic

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Cybercrime insurance is making the ransomware problem worse

Subhajit Basu, University of Leeds Cybercrime insurance is making the ransomware problem worse During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was another outbreak in cyberspace: a digital epidemic driven by ransomware. Several organisations worldwide fell victim to cyber-extortionists who stole data either to sell to other criminals or held it as a ransom for a profit. The sheer number of attacks indicates that cyber security and anti-ransomware defences did not work or have limited effectiveness. Businesses are turning to cyberinsurance companies in desperation to protect themselves from attack. But the growth of the cyberinsurance market is only encouraging criminals to target companies

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A new cyber taskforce will supposedly ‘hack the hackers’ behind the Medibank breach. It could put a target on Australia’s back

Mamoun Alazab, Charles Darwin University The Australian government is launching an offensive against cybercriminals, following a data breach that has exposed millions of people’s personal information. On November 12, Minister for Cyber Security Clare O’Neil announced a taskforce to “hack the hackers” behind the recent Medibank data breach. The taskforce will be a first-of-its-kind permanent, joint collaboration between Australian Federal Police and the Australian Signals Directorate. Its 100 or so operatives will use the same cyber weapons and tactics as cybercriminals use, to hunt them down and eliminate them as a threat. Details on how the taskforce will operate remain

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Australia is considering a ban on cyber ransom payments, but it could backfire. Here’s another idea

Jeffrey Foster, Macquarie University and Jennifer J. Williams, Macquarie University First Optus, now Medibank; in less than two months we’ve experienced two of the largest personal data breaches in Australia’s history. In both cases the hackers attempted, and failed, to extort a ransom in exchange for not releasing personal data. So far the Optus hackers have released only a small sample of data, and claim to have deleted the rest. On the other hand, the Medibank hackers have released the records of more than one million people – and have threatened to release more data on Friday. With this looming

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Artemis 1 is off – and we’re a step closer to using Moon dirt for construction in space

Matthew Shaw, Swinburne University of Technology NASA has just launched its first rocket in the Artemis program, which will, among other things, take scientific experiments to produce metal on the Moon. In recent years, a number of businesses and organisations have ramped up efforts to establish technologies on the Moon. But doing work in space is expensive. Sending just one kilogram of material to the Moon can cost US$1.2 million (A$1.89 million). What if we could save money by using the resources that are already there? This process is called in-situ resource utilisation, and it’s exactly what astrometallurgy researchers are

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Even a limited nuclear war could devastate the world’s oceans: here’s what our modelling shows

Tyler Rohr, University of Tasmania; Cheryl Harrison, Louisiana State University ; Kim Scherrer, University of Bergen, and Ryan Heneghan, Queensland University of Technology The US and Russia have recently agreed to hold talks on the New START Treaty, the only accord left regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world. While this is undoubtedly good news, we must not allow it to lull us into complacency. Global events this year, most notably in Ukraine, have raised fears of a nuclear conflict to levels not seen since the cold war. There are more than 10,000 nuclear warheads remaining in the

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