Category Archives: –BBC Tech News–

Camera can see through human body ?

Scientists have developed a camera that can see through the human body.

The device has been designed to help doctors track medical tools, known as endoscopes, during internal examinations.

Until now, medics have had to rely on expensive scans, such as X-rays, to trace their progress.

The new camera works by detecting light sources inside the body, such as the illuminated tip of the endoscope’s long flexible tube.

Prof Kev Dhaliwal, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “It has immense potential for diverse applications, such as the one described in this work.

“The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease.”

‘Tissues and organs’

Early tests have shown the prototype device can track a point light source through 20cm of tissue under normal conditions.

Beams from the endoscope can pass through the body, but usually scatter or bounce off tissues and organs rather than travelling straight through.

That makes it problematic to get a clear picture of where the tool is.

body camera
Image captionThe equipment is sensitive it can detect individual photons

The new camera can detect individual particles, called photons, and is so sensitive it can catch tiny traces of light passing through tissue.

It can also record the time taken for light to pass through the body, meaning the device is able to work out exactly where the endoscope is.

Researchers have developed the new camera so it can be used at the patient’s bedside.

The project – led by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University – is part of the Proteus Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration, which is developing a range of new technologies for diagnosing and treating lung diseases.

Dr Michael Tanner, of Heriot-Watt University, said: “My favourite element of this work was the ability to work with clinicians to understand a practical healthcare challenge, then tailor advanced technologies and principles that would not normally make it out of a physics lab to solve real problems.

“I hope we can continue this interdisciplinary approach to make a real difference in healthcare technology.”

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Posted by on 05/09/2017 in --BBC Tech News--


Gmail smartphone app hacked by researchers

Android phone

US researchers say they have been able to hack into Gmail accounts with a 92% success rate by exploiting a weakness in smartphone memory.

The researchers were able to gain access to a number of apps, including Gmail, by disguising malicious software as another downloaded app.

Gmail was among the easiest to access from the popular apps tested.

The hack was tested on an Android phone, but the researchers believe it could work on other operating systems.

A Google spokeswoman said the technology giant welcomed the research. “Third-party research is one of the ways Android is made stronger and more secure,” she said.

The research is being presented later at a cybersecurity conference in San Diego by academics from the universities of Michigan and California.

Other apps hacked included H&R Block, Newegg, WebMD, Chase Bank, and Amazon.

Passwords stolen

The Amazon app was the hardest to access, with a 48% success rate.

The hack involves accessing the shared memory of a user’s smartphone using malicious software disguised as an apparently harmless app, such as wallpaper.

This shared memory is used by all apps, and by analysing its use the researchers were able to tell when a user was logging into apps such as Gmail, giving them the opportunity to steal login details and passwords.

“The assumption has always been that these apps can’t interfere with each other easily,” said Zhiyun Qian, an assistant professor at the University of California and one of the researchers involved in the study.

“We show that assumption is not correct, and one app can in fact significantly impact another and result in harmful consequences for the user.”

In another example the researchers were able to take advantage of a feature of the Chase Bank app which allows customers to pay in cheques by taking pictures of them with their device’s camera.

The researchers were able to access the camera to steal the pictures as they were being taken, giving them access to personal information including signatures and bank details.

The tests were carried out on Android phones, but the researchers believe the attacks could be successful on other operating systems, including Windows and the iOS system developed by Apple.

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Posted by on 25/08/2014 in --BBC Tech News--


Web War II: What a future cyberwar will look like

BBC World Service

Luminous keyboard
How might the blitzkrieg of the future arrive? By air strike? An invading army? In a terrorist’s suitcase? In fact it could be coming down the line to a computer near you.

Operation Locked Shields, an international military exercise held last month, was not exactly your usual game of soldiers. It involves no loud bangs or bullets, no tanks, aircraft or camouflage face-paint. Its troops rarely even left their control room, deep within a high security military base in Estonia.

These people represent a new kind of combatant – the cyber warrior.

One team of IT specialists taking part in Locked Shields, were detailed to attack nine other teams, located all over Europe. At their terminals in the Nato Co-operative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, they cooked up viruses, worms, Trojan Horses and other internet attacks, to hijack and extract data from the computers of their pretend enemies.

Cyberwar glossary I

  • Botnet: Geographically-dispersed network of infected computers which can be controlled remotely without their owners’ knowledge, and used to attack other computers or networks
  • Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDOS): A means of knocking websites offline by overwhelming them with bogus traffic
  • Trojan Horse: Malicious software masquerading as something legitimate. Some Trojans even appear to be anti-virus software
  • Virus: Malicious computer programme designed to make a computer or network malfunction
  • Worm: A type of virus that can replicate itself. Worms can multiply sufficiently to consume a computer’s available memory or hard disk

The idea was to learn valuable lessons in how to forestall such attacks on military and commercial networks. The cyber threat is one that the Western alliance is taking seriously.

It’s no coincidence that Nato established its defence centre in Estonia. In 2007, the country’s banking, media and government websites were bombarded with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks over a three week period, in what’s since become known as Web War I. The culprits are thought to have been pro-Russian hacktivists, angered by the removal of a Soviet-era statue from the centre of the capital, Tallinn.

DDOS attacks are quite straightforward. Networks of thousands of infected computers, known as botnets, simultaneously access the target website, which is overwhelmed by the volume of traffic, and so temporarily disabled. However, DDOS attacks are a mere blunderbuss by comparison with the latest digital weapons. Today, the fear is that Web War II – if and when it comes – could inflict physical damage, leading to massive disruption and even death.

“Sophisticated cyber attackers could do things like derail trains across the country,” says Richard A Clarke, an adviser on counter-terrorism and cyber-security to presidents Clinton and Bush.

“They could cause power blackouts – not just by shutting off the power but by permanently damaging generators that would take months to replace. They could do things like cause [oil or gas] pipelines to explode. They could ground aircraft.”

Clarke’s worries are fuelled by the current tendency to put more of our lives online, and indeed, they appear to be borne out by experiments carried out in the United States.

“Start Quote

A power station might have less anti-virus protection than the average laptop”

At the heart of the problem are the interfaces between the digital and physical worlds known as Scada – or Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition – systems.

Today, these computerised controllers have taken over a myriad jobs once performed manually. They do everything from opening the valves on pipelines to monitoring traffic signals. Soon, they’ll become commonplace in the home, controlling smart appliances like central heating.

And crucially, they use cyberspace to communicate with their masters, taking commands on what to do next, and reporting any problems back. Hack into these networks, and in theory you have control of national electricity grids, water supplies, distribution systems for manufacturers or supermarkets, and other critical infrastructure.

In 2007, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demonstrated the potential vulnerability of Scada systems. Using malicious software to feed in the wrong commands, they attacked a large diesel generator. Film of the experiment shows the machine shaking violently before black smoke engulfs the screen.

Cyberwar glossary II

• IP address: The unique numerical identification which every device online needs to have

• Scada: Computer system used to control physical processes such as in industry, and to collect diagnostic information such as machinery performance data

• Software errors: Glitches within the computer code of software which render it vulnerable to hacking. Undiscovered errors, known as Zero Day Exploits, are invisible to anti-virus programmes and therefore especially prized by hackers

• Software patch: Short programme published by a software producer to repair malfunctions or otherwise to improve existing software

Although this took place under laboratory conditions, with the attackers given free rein to do their worst, the fear is that, one day, a belligerent state, terrorists, or even recreational hackers, might do the same in the real world.

“Over the past several months we’ve seen a variety of things,” says Jenny Mena of the DHS. “There are now search engines that make it possible to find those devices that are vulnerable to an attack through the internet. In addition we’ve seen an increased interest in this area in the hacker and hacktivist community.”

One reason why Scada systems may be prone to hacking is that engineers, rather than specialist programmers, are often likely to have designed their software. They are expert in their field, says German security consultant Ralph Langner, but not in cyber defence. “At some point they learned how to develop software,” he adds, “but you can’t compare them to professional software developers who probably spent a decade learning.”

Moreover, critical infrastructure software can be surprisingly exposed. A power station, for example, might have less anti-virus protection than the average laptop. And when vulnerabilities are detected, it can be impossible to repair them immediately with a software patch. “It requires you to re-boot,” Langner points out. “And a power plant has to run 24-7, with only a yearly power-down for maintenance.” So until the power station has its annual stoppage, new software cannot be installed.

NatanzThe success of Stuxnet’s attack on the Natanz facility may mean cyber weapons are here to stay

Langner is well-qualified to comment. In 2010 he, along with two employees, took it upon himself to investigate a mystery computer worm known as Stuxnet, that was puzzling the big anti-virus companies. What he discovered took his breath away.

Stuxnet appeared to target a specific type of Scada system doing a specific job, and it did little damage to any other applications it infected. It was clever enough to find its way from computer to computer, searching out its prey. And, containing over 15,000 lines of computer code, it exploited no fewer than four previously undiscovered software errors in Microsoft Windows. Such errors are extremely rare, suggesting that Stuxnet’s creators were highly expert and very well-resourced.

“Start Quote

The attack vectors and exploits used by Stuxnet can be copied and re-used – the technology is out there on the internet”

Ralph LangnerSecurity consultant

It took Langner some six months to probe just a quarter of the virus. “If I’d wanted to do all of it I might have gone bust!” he jokes. But his research had already drawn startling results.

Stuxnet’s target, it turned out, was the system controlling uranium centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. There is now widespread speculation that the attack was the work of American or Israeli agents, or both. Whatever the truth, Langner estimates that it delayed Iran’s nuclear project by around two years – no less than any air strike was expected to achieve – at a relatively small cost of around $10 million. This success, he says, means cyber weapons are here to stay.

Optimists say Stuxnet does at least suggest a scrap of reassurance. Professor Peter Sommer, an international expert in cyber crime, points out that the amount of research and highly skilled programming it involved would put weapons of this calibre beyond anyone but an advanced nation state. And states, he point out, usually behave rationally, thus ruling out indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets.

“You don’t necessarily want to cause total disruption. Because the results are likely to be unforeseen and uncontrollable. In other words, although one can conceive of attacks that might bring down the world financial system or bring down the internet, why would one want to do that? You would end up with something not that different from a nuclear winter.”

Find out more

Laptop man with gas mask
  • Danger in the Download is a three-part documentary presented by Ed Butler on the BBC World Service
  • The first episode will be broadcast on 1 May at 00:06GMT, and will be available afterwards on i-player
  • But even this crumb of comfort is denied by Langner, who argues that, having now infected computers worldwide, Stuxnet’s code is available to anyone clever enough to adapt it, including terrorists.

“The attack vectors and exploits used by Stuxnet – they can be copied and re-used reliably against completely different targets. Until a year ago no one was aware of such an aggressive and sophisticated threat. With Stuxnet that has changed. It is on the table. The technology is out there on the internet.”

One thing is for sure, he adds: If cyber weapons do become widespread, their targets will lie mostly in the west, rather than in countries like Iran, which have relatively little internet dependence. This means that the old rules of military deterrence which favoured powerful, technologically advanced countries like the United States do not apply: Responding in kind to a cyber attack could be effectively impossible.

This asymmetry is likely to grow, as developed countries become ever more internet-dependent. So far, the Internet Protocol format allows only 4.3 billion IP addresses, most of which have now been used. But this year, a new version is rolling out, providing an inexhaustible supply of addresses and so allowing exponential growth in connectivity. Expect to see far more machines than people online in the future.

In the home, fridges will automatically replenish themselves by talking to food suppliers; ovens and heating systems will respond to commands from your smartphone. Cars may even drive themselves, sharing GPS data to find the best routes. For industry, commerce and infrastructure, there will be even more reliance on cyber networks that critics claim are potentially vulnerable to intrusion.

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“The US military ran headlong into the cyber age and we became very dependent on cyber devices without thinking it through”

Richard ClarkeFormer US security adviser

“There will be practically infinite number of IP addresses,” says former hacker Jason Moon. “Everything can have an IP address. And everything will have one. Now, that’s great. But think what that’s going to do for the hacker!”

In fact, it has already become a challenge for even sensitive installations, let alone households, to remain offline. Although military and other critical networks are supposedly isolated from the public internet, attackers can target their contractors and suppliers, who plug into the “air-gapped” system at various times. Somewhere down the food chain, a vulnerable website or a rogue email will provide a way in.

According to Richard Clarke, the mighty American armed forces themselves are not immune, since their command & control, supplies, and even some weapons systems, also rely on digital systems.

“The US military ran headlong into the cyber age,” he says. “And we became very dependent on cyber devices without thinking it through. Without thinking that if someone got control of our software, what would we be able to do? Do we have backup systems? Can we go back to the old days?”

The answer it seems is no. A new form of weapon appears to be emerging. And the world may have to learn to adapt.

The first episode of the three part documentary series Danger in the Download presented by Ed Butler will be broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday 1 May at 00:06GMT and will be available afterwards on i-player.


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Posted by on 09/06/2012 in --BBC Tech News--


IPv6: Trillions of new net addresses now possible

Entangled ethernet cables

A new standard which will allow the creation of trillions of new internet addresses has been enabled.

Several companies switched to Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) at 00:01 GMT on Wednesday.

The new system is necessary to prevent the internet running out of available addresses for new devices.

Experts said users should not notice any difference in their web use, and new devices should be using the new system as standard.

Companies such as Google, Facebook and major internet service providers have enabled the new system in order to encourage the widespread adoption of the standard.

The actions come as part of World IPv6 Launch Day, a special event organised by the Internet Society.

IPv6 will eventually replace IPv4, which was conceived during the early days of the internet. It only allows just over four billion unique IP addresses – the sequences of numbers used to identify a device.

Each internet-enabled device – such as a computer, tablet or smartphone – needs its own IP address in order to connect to the internet.

However, due to the shortage of IP addresses, many devices – such as multiple computers in the one home – have to share addresses.

Networking giant Cisco predicts that by 2016, 18.9 billion internet-enabled devices will be online. Switching to IPv6 means trillions of possible addresses can now be made.

Vint Cerf, early pioneer of the internet and current “chief internet evangelist” for Google, explained in a blog post: “The new, larger IPv6 expands the limit to 2^128 addresses—more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion! Enough for essentially unlimited growth for the foreseeable future.”

‘Imperial to metric’

To ensure a smooth transition, and to make sure devices do not stop working, both systems will work side-by-side for the next few years.

“Most users shouldn’t notice anything,” said Leo Vegoda from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the Internet address system.

Continue reading the main story

Spot the difference

  • The old IPv4 system uses 32-bit addresses like this:
  • While an IP address under the new system will look more like this:21DA:00D3:0000:2F3B:02AA:00FF:FE28:9C5A

“If ordinary Internet users need to know stuff, then the technology isn’t right.”

Some users on IPv4-only devices may experience speed issues, he added.

Once the full switch to IPv6 has been made, older devices and networks may encounter problems.

“The introduction of IPv6 is the IT equivalent of the move from imperial to metric for measurement; the two can run side by side but aren’t compatible with each other,” explained Mark Lewis, vice president for development for telecommunications firm Interoute.

Mr Lewis warned that the proliferation of internet-enabled devices presents a pressing security risk for companies.

“The introduction of IPv6 will effectively mean that every device, from the mobile phone to the vending machine could become a mole in the office,” he said.

“This puts the onus on organisations to secure and understand these new internet enabled devices that operate within the office walls.”

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Posted by on 07/06/2012 in --BBC Tech News--


Yahoo’s Axis offers visual results to search requests

Yahoo has launched new search software which offers results as a swipeable string of webpage previews rather than a list of links.Yahoo Axis preview

Called Axis, the service is being released as an app for Apple’s iPads and iPhones, and as a plug-in for web browsers.

It may help Yahoo combat the declining popularity of its search tools.

However, it will not be a money-spinner at launch since adverts are not included in the results.

Other innovations include:

  • A list of trending search topics when the service is activated
  • The ability to deduce which page previews are wanted and display them before the full query has been typed in
  • Different devices can share bookmarks, partly-completed searches and a customised home page
  • Social sharing options via Twitter, Pinterest and email

“By supercharging the browser with a visually rich search experience and seamlessly connecting that experience across all of your devices, we are delivering an experience that will change the game,” blogged Yahoo’s special products management director Ethan Batraski.

“We decided to remove all the noise so you can focus on what you really want.”

The app is initially only available in the US, but will become available to France, the UK and some other markets by the end of the year.

Catching up

Recent data from digital analytics firm comScore suggested that in April, Yahoo sites accounted for just 13.5% of search queries in the US. Two years earlier the figure was 20.4%.

The web portal is also engaged in a tie-up with Microsoft’s Bing search service, sharing its AdCenter technology.

But last month Yahoo’s former chief executive admitted that the alliance was “not yet delivering” what had been expected.

Early reviews have praised Axis’s design and the convenience of the service.

However, other attempts to introduce visual search results have failed to win much traction.

Oolone, Redz and Simploos already offer webpage previews as an alternative to links.

Axis weather screenshotIn some cases users can obtain all the information they need from the preview results

Bing also used to offer a “visual search” feature using its Searchlight technology offering tease image results, rather than webpage previews. However, it ditched the option because it was hardly used.

But one internet analyst told the BBC that Yahoo may have more success thanks to its focus on mobile devices.

“What is neat about this is that their user interface helps reinvent search by allowing people to swipe and flick through results,” said Ian Maude from Enders Analysis.

“That takes advantage of the way they typically interact with their tablet and smartphone touch screens.

“I particularly like the visual aspect to it – for instance allowing you to preview the weather forecast without having to click through to the page selected.”

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Posted by on 24/05/2012 in --BBC Tech News--


LED light bulb to last more than 20 years

General Electric LED light bulbLight bulbs that are said to last for more than two decades while consuming very little energy may go on sale later this year.

US firm General Electric, Dutch company Philips and Sylvania all showcased their products at the Light Fair industry conference in Las Vegas.

Using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of filaments, the bulbs are meant to produce as much light as a 100-watt incandescent alternative.

However, LEDs are not usually cheap.

In April, Philips introduced its LPrize LED that will cost $60 (£37) – but consumes only 9.7 watts while giving off the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent lamp.

The company has arranged discounts with shops that will sell the bulb priced at around $20 (£12).

The new EnduraLED from Philips looks similar, but is said to be equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent bulb while consuming only a quarter of the energy.

Both Philips and Sylvania said their products are due to appear in stores later this year, while GE plans to sell its bulb early next year. The firm currently sells a 9-watt LED bulb that is made to replace a 40-watt incandescent, for about $50 (£31).

All three bulbs are meant to last more than 20 years, if used about three hours per day.

Continue reading the main story

What is LED lighting?

Communal area with standard lighting (left) and LED fittings (right) (Image: Energy Saving Trust)

Light-emitting diodes have been around for years.

Traditionally, they have been used as indicators on electrical devices, such as standby lights on TVs.

White light (used for general lighting) using LEDs can be created via a number of techniques. One example is mixing red, green and blue LEDs.

It is suggested that LEDs can last for up to 100,000 hours, compared with the 1,000 hours of traditional incandescent light-bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps’ (CFLs) 15,000 hours.

The technology is also much more energy efficient, using up to 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

The long lifespans and low energy use make LEDs economically attractive because even though the fittings cost more, the running and maintenance bills are lower.

Saving energy

In 2011, the UK’s Energy Saving Trust (EST)carried out a study, measuring the performance of more than 4,250 LED light fittings installed at 35 sites around the UK.

The authors of the report claim the technology can deliver huge energy savings, reduce costs and makes residents feel safer.

“LEDs promise to be the way forward for the whole sector,” explained James Russill, EST’s technical development manager, in an earlier interview with the BBC.

“There are so many benefits: they can be smaller, brighter; it is one of those rare technologies where the trial has shown it performs better than the lighting systems it is replacing but, at the same time, uses less energy.”

Mr Russill said LED light bulbs are more efficient than traditional, incandescent ones because there is less energy loss through heat.

Traditional light bulbs pass electricity through a filament, which results in energy being released as both heat and light, leading to a lot of heat being wasted.

But LEDs are made from a semiconductor material, and are able to emit much more light for the same amount of electricity.

“LEDs are the most efficient light source currently available, and are increasingly used in domestic, commercial and automotive applications,” said Mr Russill.

“They can last tens of thousands of hours compared to 1,000 hours for typical incandescent lamps.

“This is due to the use of solid state technology – they have no moving parts, no glass and no filament breakage.”

The ongoing results of tests currently underway by the EST show that “lifetimes of more than 15 years are expected to be achieved”, he added.

LED challenges

One of the main challenges faced by LED lighting manufacturers is dealing with waste heat produced by the bulb.

Although a lot less energy is wasted through heat than in the case of a traditional light bulb, some heat loss still occurs.

So that the intense heat does not degrade the long life promised by the companies, the lamps need some kind of a cooling mechanism.

Philips LED bulbIt is expected for the new Philips LED light bulb to cost even more than LPrize LED, which costs £37

GE, for example, uses what is called an active “synthetic jet” technology that produces an air flow inside the lamp, pulling the hot air out and creating a cooling air current.

Another obstacle used to be omnidirectional light – making the bulb give off light in all directions.

That is why in the past, LEDs were mostly used for spotlights and flashlights.

But now that this problem has been solved, they have to compete with other products used for general lighting, such as omnidirectional compact fluorescent lights and halogens.

Compact fluorescent lights are almost as energy efficient as LEDs, but cost a lot less.

Production of 100-watt bulbs has stopped in the US and Europe, while production of 60-watt bulbs has been stopped in Europe and is being

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Posted by on 09/05/2012 in --BBC Tech News--


Google gets Nevada driving licence for self-drive car

Google's driverless carDriverless cars will soon be a reality on the roads of Nevada after the state approved America’s first self-driven vehicle licence.

The first to hit the highway will be a Toyota Prius modified by search firm Google, which is leading the way in driverless car technology.

Its first drive included a spin down Las Vegas’s famous strip.

Other car companies are also seeking self-driven car licences in Nevada.


The car uses video cameras mounted on the roof, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic.

Engineers at Google have previously tested the car on the streets of California, including crossing San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

For those tests, the car remained manned at all times by a trained driver ready to take control if the software failed.

According to software engineer Sebastian Thrun, the car has covered 140,000 miles with no accidents, other than a bump at traffic lights from a car behind.

Human error

Bruce Breslow, director of Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles, says he believes driverless vehicles are the “cars of the future”.

Nevada changed its laws to allow self-driven cars in March. The long-term plan is to license members of the public to drive such cars.

Google’s car has been issued with a red licence plate to make it recognisable. The plate features an infinity sign next to the number 001.

Other states, including California, are planning similar changes.

“The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error,” said California state Senator Alex Padilla, when he introduced the legislation.

“Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analysing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely.”

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Posted by on 09/05/2012 in --BBC Tech News--