Journal

Cure Cancer with Your Computer While You Sleep

October 8, 2019

By Jake Derouin

Do you ever go to bed and wonder, what do computers do while you sleep? Unless you are one who completely shuts down their computer every night, computers in standby typically do 3 things: perform updates, perform drive defragmentation (sort of like organizing your closet to find things faster), and perform data backups. These tasks only take a small amount of your computer’s CPU power (the CPU is the brain of the computer that performs over a billion operations every second). The rest of your CPU’s resources just sit idle with nothing to do. But with the power of collaboration between computer scientists and scientists of various disciplines, those resources can finally be put to use to perform research through something called Distributed Computing!

What is distributed computing:

Imagine you are solving a puzzle with 5000 pieces. Unless you are some sort of puzzle God completing the puzzle is going to take a long time. Now imagine you had 3 other friends with you. You decide to divide the puzzle pieces equally amongst your friends. Now the time to complete the puzzle is significantly less. That is the idea of distributed computing. They take a big workload and divide it into smaller pieces for computers to process. But instead of just splitting the workload up with 3 other computers, it’s with 300,000! Upon setting up a distributed computing program, every computer is given a benchmark test. This test determines the capability of that particular computer’s hardware and allows for the system to give out smaller bits of work to the weaker computers and larger chunks to the more powerful systems.

Cure cancer? What exactly can I do with distributed computing?

There is a plethora of applications for distributed computing. The medical community has many ongoing projects using distributed computing platforms. Projects such as Stanford’s Folding@Home focus on preforming protein folding simulations to try to figure out how protein misfolding leads to increased risk of developing diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis. Other projects such as OpenZika aim to find a drug to treat the Zika virus by testing millions of drugs to see if they can interfere with the proteins that the virus uses to survive. This testing is done all through computer simulations. For those not interested in the medical applications, one of the first and still running distributed computing experiments is SETI@Home. SETI stands for Search for Extra-terrestrial intelligence and as the name implies, is an experiment searching for aliens by analyzing radio signals in space. While since their debut in 2004 they have not found any alien lifeforms, they have discovered a radio source that could not be easily explained as compared to other radio sources. Maybe we one day will see E.T riding his bicycle back to earth. More importantly however, SETI@Home has successfully proved that distributed computing is a viable method of performing research.

How can I participate?

Participating is easy! All you need is a computer, or an Android device (unfortunately this is not yet available for IOS devices). You will then need to download a client software. This client software automatically downloads new workloads from the internet and uploads your results as your computer completes them. The software also is programmed to stop automatically when you are using your computer, that way your work is not interrupted. Two of the biggest distributed computing clients are Folding@Home and BOINC. I personally recommend BOINC because it allows you to choose what projects you would like to have your computer participate in. You can participate in more than one research study using BOINC too, and it will automatically allocate time to each project of your choice and switch between them. Both clients allow you to compete with or against your friends with a points system that calculates a score based on how much work your computers have done for the study! As for what project to perform research for, that is all up to your personal preference. I really like the IBM World Community Grid because of its multi-project focus and history of producing lots of results.

Copyright © 2014 Alexander Madyankin, Roman Shamin

The Password to Preventing Digital Disaster.

September 21, 2019

By Jake Derouin

Netflix, Snapchat, Gmail, Tiktok. We all have many accounts that we use in our daily lives. Whether you are sending email, watching Stranger Things, or listening to Spotify, you are using an account that you likely signed up for using an email and a password. Signing up for these services is usually like this: you enter an email, a password, confirm password, check a few boxes to agree to terms you didn’t actually read and ta-da you are ready to go. But with all the accounts you have made over the years, have you been using the same password? Statisticians have given me the power to tell you yes, you likely have. According to a survey conducted by Keeper Security of 1000 people, over 80 percent of them admitted to reusing passwords online. With the high percentage of people reusing their passwords and the more tied we are to technology every year there is a disaster waiting to happen.

But my reused password is difficult to guess! Why should I worry?

If your reused password includes a mix of capital letters, lowercase letters, symbols and numbers then congrats, you have a strong password! While it may be hard for someone to guess your password, a reused password might cost you your digital life if it is ever exposed in a data breach. Data breaches are when a company’s servers are compromised either by an attacker or an employee gone rogue. This can cause your information to be leaked all over the web including your email and password. Many times, hackers end up selling large sets of names, emails, and passwords on the internet to other hackers to target people and try the stolen credentials on multiple sites. You can actually check to see if your email has been found in any known data breaches by going to this nifty website www.haveibeenpwned.com.

But remembering different passwords are so tedious?

Password managers to the rescue! Password managers are pieces of software/websites that allow you to generate completely random (yet strong) passwords for sites you sign up for. The password manager will then save the password inside a digital vault that is protected under a single strong and memorable password. These vaults are designed with security being their first priority. Many password managers let you install a browser extension to automatically fill out password forums with its saved passwords, so you never have to type them again. Additionally, popular password managers are frequently cross platform, meaning that you can access/save your passwords on your PC, Mac, Android, and iPhone! They also let you import existing saved passwords from other sources such as Google Chrome and Firefox! I personally recommend the password manager Bitwarden. Bitwarden is what is called “open source” which means that the code of the password manager is free for anyone to use and audit. Because of this, Bitwarden has been reviewed by multiple security teams and has published the results of their reports online. Best of all Bitwarden is FREE and only asks for $10 a year for some extra features for the more tech savvy individuals. Bitwarden also uses something called “hashing” on your master password. What hashing does is convert your master password data to an unreadable piece of data by using a very complex mathematical equation, more complex than anything found in your AP Calculus class. This “hashed” data is unable to be reversed back into a password so when you log into Bitwarden, your password is placed through that same mathematical equation to see if the result or “hash” matches the same as the hash stored in your account. What this means is that in the event that Bitwarden itself gets hacked, there is no way a hacker can get your master password to decrypt (unlock) your saved passwords.

But why would anyone want to hack me?

A good question. I don’t know. But I do know that those of us born in the 21st century are the first generation of people to have emails and web accounts before we were in middle school. You still have a lot of big changes in your life ahead, whether it’s your job, your relationships, or your money. You may someday be someone famous and make a lot of dough which would put you at high risk for identity theft. Unfortunately, regardless if you are the next Kim Kardashian or Ryan Lochte, there will always be people out there who enjoy ruining the reputation of others and wreaking havoc for their own financial gain. It is best to prevent this from happening to you by having good security habits now. Don’t let a bad online security habit create a world wide web of headaches for you in the future.

Some other online security tips:

· Use “two-factor authentication” on your accounts ESPECIALLY your email and password manager. This requires you to verify your identity with something else in addition to your password. It can be as simple as a 4-digit text you receive on your phone or an email code that you enter after your password to help make sure that the person logging in is really you.

· Don’t send passwords over text (SMS) (SMS is also known as the green texting bubbles on iMessage). SMS messages are NOT encrypted and are able to be intercepted and read by a hacker.

· When being asked to enter a password always check the web address to make sure it seems right and that you’re not on a fake site that is designed to steal your password in an attack known as phishing.

· Use a strong password to lock your phone. Your phone contains a ton of valuable information that can be used to hack into your accounts.

Image copyright Apple

Apple's Next Takeover: Tile

September 19, 2019

By Jake Derouin

Today is Thursday September 19. A few hours ago, Apple released IOS 13 to the masses of iPhone users (iPads will have to wait a few more days for the debut of iPadOS 13). As many people know, IOS 13 brings many new features to the world of iPhone. Dark mode, a new photos experience, faster app launches, and much much more. As with nearly every IOS release there are always a few apps that end up being victims of "Sherlocking" by which their app is no longer needed as Apple has implemented their app's functionality into the operating system itself. This year two of the major victims of the annual sherlock include all of the hundreds of menstrual cycle tracking apps which now have an Apple branded replacement preinstalled on all Apple Watches running the new watchOS 6 as well as the Health App and the popular SwiftKey keyboard extension which now has a clone directly integrated into the keyboard by default. But there is one major accessory company that is likely the target of Apple's next Sherlocking attack, Tile. One of the not so well-known features of IOS 13 is the new Find My app.


Upon installation of IOS 13 the apps Find my iPhone and Find my Friends become merged into one app called Find My. In addition to being a one stop shop for finding your lost devices or tracking your friends whether you find that creepy or not, your device also becomes capable of offline finding. One of the biggest complaints about the Find my iPhone feature is the fact that you cannot locate your device when it is offline. This is a major issue especially for iPad and Mac users, who usually do not have a cellular connection when they are out and about. How offline finding works is that your device will periodically send out short range Bluetooth signals that include a special key (also called a public key to all you tech nerds out there) that will piggyback on the data traffic of nearby iPhones anonymously and relay location information back to your iCloud account with the location of the device. This location information is encrypted (locked) with the public key so it can ONLY be read by you by using your private key to decrypt (unlock) the data. What this means is that every single iPhone running IOS 13 is a searchlight for lost Apple devices. This technology is very similar to how Tile's Bluetooth trackers are able to be tracked by other users’ devices except for the fact that all that is required for tracking other Apple devices is IOS 13 rather than a separate app that you have to download as in Tile's case. This puts Tile at a huge disadvantage when it comes to tracking capability. The more devices that are able to relay Bluetooth information, the better chance you will find your lost device. But what does tracking Apple devices have to do with Tile's devices that are used for tracking purses, wallets, and keys?

As of today, Tile is safe as Apple has yet to announce any trackers that are capable of tracking non-Apple items. However, there have been many rumors of an upcoming "Apple tag" tracker of some sort. Some dataminers (people who dig through the code of the operating system) have reported seeing references to such devices in the code of IOS 13.1 beta. Additionally, one of new features of the iPhone 11 that was only briefly mentioned on Apple's website and in the Keynote is the new U1 chip. This chip is capable of tracking other devices with the same chip with high accuracy and speed. Apple compares the accuracy of the chip to it being like "GPS at the scale of your living room". With the new chip being featured it seems that this Apple Tag rumor has gained even more credibility. It will be interesting to see how Tile responds to this new feature and when Apple decides to announce the so-called Apple Tag if this rumor indeed proves true. In the meantime, IOS 13 users can at least rest a little easier knowing that they can now track their devices even with they go offline.