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Rampaging webcams take over Internet

Webcams take over the Internet, Blackberry outsources phone manufacturing and a small green frog becomes a target of hatred. Oh, and AI companies begin determining how to stop AI from taking over the world. What could possibly go wrong?

An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering, in which an automated script fetches, analyses and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. Each server can have a file called robots.txt, containing rules for the spidering of that server that the bot is supposed to obey or be removed.Another, more malicious use of bots is the coordination and operation of an automated attack on networked computers, such as a denial-of-service attack by a botnet. Internet bots can also be used to commit click fraud and more recently have seen usage around MMORPG games as computer game bots. A spambot is an internet bot that attempts to spam large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links.

It turns out that PCs aren’t the only things that can join a botnet. Internet-connected cameras can too. Attackers proved it by engineering thousands of them into a malevolent digital swarm and then directing it at people they didn’t like, including cybersecurity writer Brian Krebs, whose website went offline, and French hosting firm OVH.

Webcams are perfect devices for botnets, because they’re typically low on security and use default settings. There are huge numbers of them online, and they can still send the killer signal that can help to take down a website: a simple query packet. The packets don’t matter on their own, but collectively, they choke off a site’s bandwidth and computing resources as it tries to deal with them all. Welcome to the Internet of pings.

BlackBerry makes its last phone

Blackberry is to stop making its own phones. The company whose execs laughed at the iPhone in 2007 is now to focus on software development and security, said John Chen, the CEO tasked with the superhuman job of turning the stricken company around. Instead, it will outsource any hardware development to partners.

Analysts welcomed the move, because software margins are healthier for the company, they said. Making handsets is an expensive, high-volume game with one fewer player this week, and it marks the end of an era for Blackberry, which made its name with its distinctive hard-keyboard devices.

Yahoo account hack spawns cybersecurity panto

Another day, another massive hack. Yahoo lost 500 million accounts to intruders and claimed that it was a state-sponsored attack, which is great way of saying “don’t blame us, no one can stop an army of well-funded elite hackers with government backing!”

But some cybersecurity experts have expressed doubts about Russian or Chinese involvement, asking why they’d bother. The result: another cybersecurity pantomime, with one side crying “oh yes they did!” and another yelling “oh no they didn’t!” We saw it all before with Sony Pictures and North Korea.

Hyperscale players tackle AI problem

AI is developing at a fantastic pace. What happens if it goes wrong? Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon have joined forces to create the Partnership on AI, a think tank to help ensure that it doesn’t. They’ll be looking at ethics, trustworthiness and privacy as key issues in an artificially intelligent world.

Whether or not it’s a good idea to let the leading developers of commercial AI self-regulate is unclear, especially given that Google just snarfed the text of 11,000 novels without the authors’ permission to help fuel its vast AI machine. Perhaps there’s a machine learning algorithm to help answer that question.

Dingbat of the week

This week’s anti-hero in tech is small, green and entirely innocent. Stand up and take a bow, Pepe the Frog. Initially created by cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005, Pepe was a simple online cartoon character until the alt-right — the seething, turbulent mass of far-right online Breitbart-reading trolls — got hold of him. They started spawning white supremacist Pepe memes (see what we did there?), entirely co-opting the poor amphibian and tanking his reputation.

Now, Pepe has been labelled a white supremacist hate symbol by none other than the Anti-Defamation League and his image is in tatters. It’s not easy being green.

Image: iStock

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