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Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Drugs Hack Your Brain

A puff of this, and the world transforms into a colourful kaleidoscope of dancing patterns and waves of sound; a sip of that, and the muscles in your body relax like jelly. We know different drugs make us experience the world around us in very different ways - and their after-effects are often nowhere near as pleasant as the immediate results they produce. So what exactly are these drugs doing to the brain to prompt these feelings?

When marijuana's active ingredient, THC, hits the brain, it causes brain cells to release the feel-good chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a part of the brain's reward system - it's the same chemical that makes us feel good when we do enjoyable things such as eating and having sex.
When overexcited by drugs, the reward system creates feelings of euphoria. This is also why, in some rare cases, excessive use can be a problem: The more often you trigger that euphoria, the less you may feel for other rewarding experiences.

Magic Mushrooms
A recent study showed that shrooms' main psychoactive ingredient, psilocybin, appears to quiet traditional brain activity and instead jump-starts new connections between different areas of the brain.
These new connections may be what causes users to describe "seeing sounds" or "hearing colours" and could also give shrooms some of their antidepressant qualities. More research is needed, of course. And shrooms don't come without health risks, which can include unpleasant hallucinations and increased anxiety.

 Like other drugs, booze affects brain chemistry by altering the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that pass along the signals that control our thinking and behavior.
Alcohol slows down our thinking, breathing, and heart rate by halting our 'excitatory' messengers, the ones that typically increase our energy levels. But it amplifies our 'inhibitory' messengers, those that usually work to calm things down. It also boosts our brain's feel-good dopamine levels.

The brain converts heroin into morphine, which binds to molecules on cells in the brain and body called opioid receptors that affect how we perceive pain and rewards. This explains the surging sense of euphoria that many people feel when they inject the drug.
Because we also have opioid receptors in our brain stem, the body's main control centre, overdosing on heroin can slow and even stop breathing, leading to brain damage, coma, or death.

Prescription opiate painkillers
Recent research has shed light on a troubling potential link between heroin and opiate painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. A CDC report released in July found that people who abused opiates were 40 times as likely to abuse heroin. One of the reasons abusing opiates may make people more susceptible to future heroin abuse, the report says, is that the drugs act similarly in the brain.

Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. A stimulant of the central nervous system, caffeine can give us a temporary mood boost. But this can also pump up our adrenaline levels, which primes us for exercise but can leave us more irritable and anxious.
Caffeine also keeps us alert by mimicking a molecule called adenosine in the brain and hijacking one aspect of a complex process our brains use to put us to bed at night. 

Like magic mushrooms, LSD is a hallucinogen. Hallucinogens primarily affect the area of the brain responsible for regulating our mood, thoughts, and perception, but they also influence other regions that control how we respond to stress. Some users have described extensive 'trips' on these drugs that include everything from floating to seeing their own deaths.
The short-term effects of LSD can include impulsiveness, rapid shifts in emotions ranging from euphoria to sadness, dizziness, and increased heart rate.

Because flakka is so new, researchers aren't sure exactly how it affects the brain or how addictive it is. For now, they can look only to its chemical cousins, including cocaine and amphetamines, for evidence.
These drugs cause a surge in two chemicals: dopamine, the feel-good chemical, and norepinephrine, which raises our heart rate and keeps us alert. Like most drugs, flakka comes with a comedown. This sensation often results in users returning to the drug to get rid of the negative feeling, jump-starting a cycle of use that can lead to abuse. Excessive use has been linked with feelings of extreme anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and violent behaviour.

Ecstasy, or MDMA, amps up the activity of at least three different neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which plays a critical role in maintaining our mood. Pumped-up serotonin levels may explain the mood boost many MDMA users feel, but it's this same serotonin dump that most likely also contributes to the days-long comedown it often brings.
Research suggests that chronic MDMA use (a couple of pills every weekend for years or 10 to 20 pills in a weekend) is bad news for the brain. Two recent studies comparing chronic users with those who rarely or never used found that the chronic users scored lower on memory and learning tests; one of those studies also found reduced activity in those brain regions via PET scans.

Whether it's snorted, smoked, or injected, cocaine enters the bloodstream and penetrates the brain in a matter of seconds. Once there, it causes an intense feeling of euphoria - its characteristic 'high' - by overwhelming the mind with the feel-good chemical dopamine. The sensation of pleasure is so powerful that some lab animals, when given a choice, will choose cocaine over food until they starve to death.

One part of the brain most acutely affected by cocaine includes key memory centres, which may partially explain some of its addictive properties. In mice that have been dosed repeatedly with cocaine, a host of changes occur in the brain cells in a region that helps with decision-making and inhibition. The more often they get the drug, the more likely they are to access it again when given the chance.

Telecom Simcards Can Be History Soon

E Sim Cards to Replace Traditional Telecom Sim Cards : As reported by the Financial Times , Apple and Samsung are working along with the GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) for replacing the traditional Sim cards which are used in the mobiles with Electronic-Sims.
E-Sims will be issued as standard sim cards with the smartphones and will be compatible with all telecom operators. The E-SIM will work like the traditional Sim but will be embedded in the smartphone itself and telecom carrier will be chosen from the Mobile user interface. 

GSMA is in advance level talks with Mobile companies like Samsung and Apple to finalize the architecture for the sim cards along with the telecom operators like AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone.
" GSMA is the global body which represents the telecom operators through out the world and work for the standardization , advancement and promotion of the GSM mobile telephone system."
The E-Sim will change the way a consumer sign up for a telecom connection and it will give more freedom to the subscribers to choose the telecom operator of their choice without the need for swapping sim cards or mobiles.
The E-Sim offers more convenience to the smartphone users with ease of porting out from one telecom operator to the other without need of getting a new physical sim card.
Anne Bouverot, chief executive of the GSMA, said all parties were heading towards an agreement for the “common architecture”. However it may take time to finalize the architecture for the sim cards and also to align the mobile operators to come to a joint conclusion.
" Apple also launched an E-sim with Apple iPad last year and only few of the operators supported it in US and UK.  It was supported by T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, and just EE in the UK. Those familiar with its UK rollout said that it had not been widely adopted. "
Concept is great and may take 2-3 years for adaption but we may see this getting widely adopted in future. It will be quite interesting to see how things like a lost sim card or a lost smartphone will be handled by the companies which currently requires mobile user to run from pillar to pole to get a new sim card with the same number.
Also with the National MNP now applicable to Indian telecom market it is possible to keep same number and even the same operator when you move from one state to other. The E-Sim cards will make MNP more user friendly.

Moral We Learned From Ashley Madison Data Breach

Do you use your Real Identity online and think about being private? If yes, then you are insane.

Ashley Madison, the popular online dating website with tagline "Life is short. Have an affair", recently got hacked, reportedly exposing a sample of its users' account information and other personal data online.

The hacker group, called itself 'The Impact Team', is also threatening to release the real names and all associated data of its 37 Million cheating customers.

There are also rumors that the team could sell the stolen data for lots of money, instead of revealing it all for free.

This isn't first time when the customers of online hooking site are scared of being exposed, two months ago the sex life of almost 4 Million users of Adult Friend Finder was made available on underground market for sale for 70 Bitcoins ($16,800).

Moral we Learned from These Hacks

The Ashley Madison hack raises serious questions about what these companies are doing to ensure the security of their users' and employees' personal information.

Just go in flashback, OPM (Office of Personnel Management), Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target, Anthem, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, and many in the list – they all were compromised and lost the very protected users' sensitive data.

This indicates nothing is completely secure online.

No website can guarantee privacy of your name, credit card number, photo or any other information. One of the company's computer gets hacked, and every secret is out.

That is the reality! And you should accept it.

One thing these hacks teaches us – Never share your real name and sensitive details online, because your digital footprints are bigger than you think.

Many websites don't use encryption, indirectly inviting hackers to get into their systems and expose its users data.

Some websites use encryption that are either outdated or easily crackable.

If in case any website uses strong encryption to protect their customers data, buggy software such as Adobe Flash and Internet Explorer fills the gap, leaving the doors widely open to hackers.

Something similar was happened in the case of Ashley Madison Hack.

A privacy flaw on Ashley Madison's Password Reset form allows anyone who knows your email address to easily check whether you had registered an account on the site. Use of the site could also come back to hurt consumers in say, divorce or custody proceedings.
"If you want a presence on sites that you don’t want anyone else knowing about, use an email alias not traceable back to yourself or an entirely different account altogether." Security reseacher Troy Hunt suggested.

So, avoid giving your real identity online, because The Internet is not secure and Security is just an Illusion.

Publicly Accesible But Unguessable Random URLs

A few days after Google's big Photos rollout, a user on Reddit noticed something fishy. "I was browsing through my photos and wanted to see the full size of an image so I right-clicked," RossFletch wrote. That took him to an open URL, still accessible when he was in incognito mode. By the logic of Photos, the image should have been private — he hadn't clicked the share button — but through this URL, it was available to anyone who typed in the right string of characters. He even pulled the image using Wget, a web-scraper utility, routed through a virtual server to hide his identity. However he came at the URL, his picture still came up. "How is this possible when this image isn't shared with anyone?" Fletch asked.
But what looked like a vulnerability on Reddit is actually something much more complex and less hair-raising. Google uses this kind of private-but-shareable URL across a number of services, along with Facebook and other companies. The URLs aren’t a meaningful security problem — that is, it would be extraordinarily difficult to use this technique to spy on someone else's photos — but the system never fails to cause alarm when users stumble on it. As more and more of our photos are kept in walled gardens controlled by Google, Facebook, or Apple, conventions like the Share button have come to feel inseparable from ideas of security and privacy. As Photos looks to transcend those boundaries, it’s ended up confusing our ideas of what good privacy practices look like.
What looked like a vulnerability is actually something much more complex
So why is that public URL more secure than it looks? The short answer is that the URL is working as a password. Photos URLs are typically around 40 characters long, so if you wanted to scan all the possible combinations, you'd have to work through 10^70 different combinations to get the right one, a problem on an astronomical scale. "There are enough combinations that it's considered unguessable," says Aravind Krishnaswamy, an engineering lead on Google Photos. "It's much harder to guess than your password." Because web traffic for Photos is encrypted with SSL, it's also kept secret from anyone on the network who might be listening in.
More importantly, the photo isn't placed at that URL until you ask for it. Google Photos normally pulls its images through a more complex back-end system, but when a user right-clicks on one of their own images, Photos responds by placing the image at the designated public URL. Essentially, Google has reverse-engineered the right-click. By right-clicking, you’re summoning the image into existence at a public (though impossible to guess) URL, a rough equivalent of clicking a "Share" button. Google could probably be more transparent about this process, but since the URLs are functionally impossible to guess, you’re not much more exposed than you were before the click.
Google has reverse-engineered the right-click
The larger result is that only a tiny portion of Google Photos pictures are actually placed on public URLs. Google also has engineers on the lookout for anyone making scans or otherwise fishy requests from their servers, so if someone did try to scan through the duovigintillions of possible URLs, they would be blocked before getting through a couple million.
Being sure that no one will guess the URL at random, Google engineers are free to give significantly more freedom to anyone who has the URL. As RossFletch documented, you can access that same photo from another computer or another continent. You can give it to a friend or pull it through an automated scraper, and it will load just the same. For Google, that's a feature. Maybe you'd like to share the photo with a friend who doesn't have a Google account, or build an automated system to pull the photo onto another system.
In some sense, that's how passwords are supposed to work: as long as you've got the password, you don't need anything else. And unlike an account or a login, the string of characters can travel anywhere. "The value of URLs is that they're universal," says Vincent Mo, another lead engineer on Photos. "You can put it in a text message, you can put it in an email, you can put it on a webpage." Because we've been trained by two decades of right-clicking, it's also a system most web users already understand. It's that rarest of things: a genuinely open system.
"The value of URLs is that they're universal."
So why does it feel more like a hack than a feature? When Reddit stumbled onto the URLs, the group assumed they'd found something unauthorized, a hole Google had neglected to plug up. For the most part, it's because there was no clear sign of permission from Photos. The web is littered with "Share This" buttons, so it's strange to find a way to pull down a photo without one. Those buttons usually also lock you in a particular network, whether it's Facebook, Flickr, or even an all-purpose site like Tumblr. Even if you share more than you meant to, it's still theoretically confined to other people using the same service, or more specific channels like an email address or local file.
In that light, the Photos URL looks like a blank check. It can go anywhere, maybe even farther than you meant it to. If the service isn't in control, then who is? We're not used to systems that open, particularly from companies as big as Google, but once those services are cleaved off from social networks (like Photos was from Google+), that openness is the inevitable result. It’s a new kind of service, and it needs to be able to talk to everyone. The surprising thing may be that, without the sharing button, we need to learn a new way to use it.

So why is that public URL more secure than it looks? The short answer is that the URL is working as a password. Photos URLs are typically around 40 characters long, so if you wanted to scan all the possible combinations, you'd have to work through 1070 different combinations to get the right one, a problem on an astronomical scale. "There are enough combinations that it's considered unguessable," says Aravind Krishnaswamy, an engineering lead on Google Photos. "It's much harder to guess than your password."
It's a perfectly valid security measure, although unsettling to some.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

German Missile System Hacked Unexplained Commands Executed Remotely

Now this is a shockingly dangerous threat when hackers are taking over weapons and missiles.

This time I am not talking about weapon systems being hackable, but being HACKED!

A German Patriot anti-aircraft missile system stationed on Turkish-Syrian border was reportedly hacked and taken over by an unknown "foreign source" who successfully executed "unexplained commands."

Two Attack Vectors

Attacks on the Patriot missiles system were detected when "unexplained" orders were given to the weapons via two supposed weak spots.

German trade publication Behörden Spiegel reports that the American-made missile system was accessed either through a Computer Chip that directs weapons guidance or through a Real-Time information exchange that provides communication between arms and commands.

The publication speculates that the hackers may have stolen sensitive information and accessed missile control that could result in a missile firing at an unintended target.

However, a spokesman for the German Federal Ministry of Defense denied the missile battery hijack report and said it lacked evidence, calling it 'extremely unlikely.'

US Backdoored Weapons to Steal Nation’s Secrets

Annie Machon, a former MI5 agent and whistleblower, told RT that the highly secure US weapons could contain backdoors. Also, Edward Snowden leaks confirmed that the US government conducts nation states cyber-espionage to steal sensitive nation’s secrets.

In June, Germany decided to spend USD4.5 Billion to replace its Patriot missiles with the Medium Extended Air Defense System used by the US and Italy.

All Other Encrypted Communications Including WhatsApp Would Be Banned By UK

The U.K. government is eager to expand already extensive spying powers to ban iMessage, Whatsapp, and Snapchat because the government cannot bypass their encryption features. The proposed ban was added to a revived version of a previously repealed British surveillance bill.
Cameron first indicated his advocacy of the ban following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January, justifying it by asking—without a hint of embarrassment—“In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?” He quickly answered his own question: “No, we must not.’”
Cameron’s suggestion was part of a larger push to revive the sweeping Communications Data Bill, which detractors commonly refer to as the “Snooper’s Charter.
By May, the government had announced it would introduce an investigatory powers bill that extended the powers granted in the Communications Data Bill and strengthened the government’s ability to engage in bulk data collection. The Home Office claimed it would “better equip law enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet their key operational requirements” by allowing them to monitor communications more invasively.
Now, the bill is pushing forward. It includes a provision to ban WhatsApp, iMessage, and Snapchat “to stop people from sending any form of encrypted messages.” The bill also requires internet companies to keep full records of all communications on their platforms. This includes Facebook and Google, which would be required to hand over whatever information the government wants, when it wants it.
In arguing in favor of the expanded powers, Cameron said, “We have always been able, on the authority of the Home Secretary, to sign a warrant and intercept a phone call, a mobile phone call or other media communications.According to Big Brother Watch, British police file a request for communications data every two minutes. Their requests are granted 96% of the time by the Home Office, a rate almost as high as that of American “rubber stamp” FISA courts. Like Cameron, American officials have criticized encryption as a danger to national security.

By banning all forms of communication exempt from government surveillance, the U.K. government is straddling a dangerous line between “national security,” as it claims to bolster, and the basic privacy rights of its citizens. Many would argue it has long since crossed that line, as intensive surveillance measures have been in place for years. Cameron pontificated this week that “…the question we must ask ourselves is whether, as technology develops, we are content to leave a safe space – a new means of communication – for terrorists to communicate with each other.”
Not everyone in the U.K. agrees with the prime minister’s privacy-versus-security dichotomy. “We take no issue with the use of intrusive surveillance powers per se – targeted surveillance can play an important part in preventing and detecting serious crime,” said Liberty, a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group in the U.K. “But the current regime just doesn’t provide sufficient safeguards to ensure that such surveillance is conducted lawfully, and in a necessary and proportionate way.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who helped to block the previous version of the Communications Data Bill when he was in office, echoed a similar sentiment about the impending new policy.
It’s not harmless. It would be a new and dramatic shift in the relationship between the state and the individual,” he said.
People who blithely say they are happy for their communications to be open to scrutiny because they have ‘nothing to hide’ have failed to grasp something fundamental about open democratic societies: We do not make ourselves safer by making ourselves less free.”
Conservatives in Parliament are expected to pass the bill (previously killed by liberal Democrats in the previous administration) with enforcement as early as 2016, even as computing experts warn the policies may enable the very terrorists they are intended to thwart.