Category Archives: technology

Car crash

Don’t forget to update the software in.. your car!

Seriously – that is the latest advice from the FBI – make sure your car’s software is up to date.

Working in IT, I see reams of good advice go to waste.

Make sure you patch your computer.

Don’t install software from dodgy websites.

Don’t open that zip file in your email that you got from some strange person you’ve never heard of!

Make sure you back up your computer – especially your really important files!

[One of my saddest days at work ever was trying to help a lady who had her entire thesis on one floppy disk that was now toast. Months of work – gone!]

But what’s this all about?

Hacking is one thing – but what if someone hacks your car?  While you’re in it!

It turns out that there have been some proven hacks of car computers while people were driving in them.

A security company purchased a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and (over a period of several months) were able to attack it remotely.

They managed to connect in via the mobile network and were able to affect the following systems:

  • At low speeds (5-10 mph):
    • Engine shutdown
    • Disable brakes
    • Steering
  • At any speed:
    • Door locks
    • Turn signal
    • Tachometer
    • Pump up the radio volume, the bass, changing the channel
    • Setting the heating, ventilating and air conditioning fan to arbitrary speeds
    • Tracking the cars GPS coordinates

In this case, the company is friendly.  The attack resulted in a white paper being produced and a recall and update of the affected cars.  There are plenty of hacking examples where the results are not so friendly.

How to prevent this happening to your car

The FBI advises that you do the following:

  1. Ensure your vehicle software is up to date.
    As mentioned, I’m sceptical that software updates will happen regularly.
  2. Be careful when making any modifications to vehicle software.
    Another way to put this is.. I really hope that you trust your mechanic.
  3. Maintain awareness and exercise discretion when connecting third-party devices to your vehicle.
    This is a short way of saying that buying a cheap no-name car diagnostics instrument from the Internet may not give you the results you expected. They can also be used as a way to hack into your car.
  4. Be aware of who has physical access to your vehicle.
    As with all hacking, it is extremely difficult to prevent hacking if someone has direct access to the computer. The trouble is, it is not that hard to get direct access to someone’s car.  If you really wanted to do it, a short distraction at a petrol station (for example) is all that’s needed.

Overall, it looks like if you really wanted to hack a car (and had a known vulnerability that you could exploit), it would be difficult to stop.

The ultimate prevention against hacking

So how do you really fix the problem?

Go vintage and get rid of the damn computer!

Old car - no on board computer here

Try hacking this, sucker!

References

Acknowledgements

About the author

Leon Troeth is a Melbourne-based freelance technology copywriter.  Leon loves turning complex tech jargon and concepts into articles that everyone can understand.

P.S. – If you liked the article, please share it using the share buttons below!


Snapchat – what’s it all about and how do you use it?

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Category : technology

Ever wondered what Snapchat is all about?  If you’re under 30, you probably know already!  But for the rest of us..

Here is a great intro guide with heaps of info about how to use it.

Snapchat 101 for VCs and Old Folks


The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things – What is it and how does it work?

In a time not far from now..

Imagine a world where everything is connected.

And I mean – EVERYTHING.

Your entire house is connected to the Internet.  Each device, door, window – anything that can turn off and on, or can open and close, is connected.

Your day starts like this: Your alarm on your phone goes off.  It talks to the coffee machine and tells it to make a coffee.  If you hit the snooze button, it tells the coffee machine to wait.  After all, you like your coffee to be HOT.

The TV in your bedroom automatically turns onto your favourite breakfast show when your wristband determines (by measuring your heart rate) that you are now actually awake.

As you head to the shower, the radio takes over.  It’s not really a radio.  It is a device which automatically provides a summary of all of the news that you’re probably interested in, based on your history of Internet searches and online news reading habits.  A sensor in the bathroom tells it when you’re there, and it just starts up.

If you say “boring!”, it moves onto the next story.

As you wander out of the bathroom, it automatically turns off.

As you have breakfast, you use the last of your milk.  That’s ok – the fridge detected it.  Milk was just added to the shopping list for the order that is being placed this morning (automatically of course – billed to your credit card), and being delivered 5 minutes after you get home from work this afternoon.

It usually takes you 35 minutes to get ready, and since it’s cold outside, your car turns itself on 25 minutes after you get up.  The car warms itself up to your favourite heat setting – synchronised with your household central heating.  We wouldn’t want you to have to be cold or anything.

As you sit down, your car tells you that there is an accident on your main route to work – maybe you should take a second suggested direction instead.  Meanwhile, your home alarm detected you leaving, locked the doors and turned itself on.  Your house also switched your devices into a hibernate mode to save electricity.  They’re ready to be woken up again when there’s any sign of network activity.

The car knows that you have a meeting as soon as you’re due to get to work.  Since you’re now going to be a few minutes late, it contacts everyone in the meeting to let them know.

Welcome to the Internet of Things – a world where everything is connected, all of your devices know everything about you, and having to lift a finger to grab a remote control is so.. 2016!

The Internet of Things – a definition

Wikipedia defines the Internet of Things as follows:

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items which are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data. The Internet of Things allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems”.

How does the Internet of Things work?

At a basic level, there are a few components that are needed.  Each device that is connected has the following:

1.      A network connection

This is typically a fixed line connection for large objects like a house, and a wireless or Bluetooth connection for devices like phones, appliances, etc.  Any other common communications protocol can be used including GPS and the mobile phone network

ZigBee, Z-Wave, mesh networks and more

One of the problems with the traditional network approach is that it requires a decent amount of power.  Other network connection methods (including “ZigBee”, “Z-Wave” and others) require much less power and are tailored for managing a large number of devices in close proximity to each other.  The whole IoT field is new at this stage, so various companies and interest groups are scrambling to make their network specification the one to use.

2.      A network address

Each device that is connected to the Internet must have a network address – called an IP (Internet Protocol) address.  In the old days (which in computer terms is more than 5 years ago!), this consisted of a series of four numbers between 0 and 255, for example 61.9.133.193.  This numbering system is called IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) and is still widely used today.  This approach allows for a total of around 4.3 billion addresses.

Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s it was realised that this approach did not provide enough addresses if all of the devices in the world were going to be hooked up to the Internet.  At the time, people were already talking about fridges having their own IP address and being connected to the Internet!

IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) was created to address the problem.  IPv6 addresses are made up of a series of 8 groups of 4 hexadecimal numbers, for example: 2001:0000:3238:DFE1:0063:0000:0000:FEFB.  Hexadecimal numbers are used since they convert easily into 1s and 0s, which at their core, is what every computer is made up of.  The also take up less room than standard decimal numbers.  If this sounds interesting to you, here’s a nifty IPv6 tutorial that also covers how hexadecimal numbers fit into the picture.

If not, the important bit to note is that IPv6 allows for approximately 3.4×1038 addresses – as in

340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

That should keep things going for a little while.

The devices can also be set up so that they don’t connect to the Internet directly.  A number of companies have produced hubs that link the devices to the outside world.  The devices all connect into the hub, and the hub has the Internet connection.

3.      Communications protocols

For devices to talk to each other, they need to speak a common language.  For example, when you send an email, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is the language that email servers use to talk to each other.

In the breakfast example above, the phone would need to know how to talk the Hot Coffee Protocol (HCP) (not a real protocol!) in order to turn the coffee on.

Typically, when the technology is new, each major company makes its own software with its own proprietary language.  This (as you would expect) is a bit of a mess. Over time, as a given type of device becomes more common, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) gets a working group together and defines a common protocol for all companies to use.

4.      Software

A software program is required to handle everything.  Devices at the end of the chain (for example, a door or a coffee pot) tend to have very basic software that just controls the device.  These are usually controlled by a much more sophisticated device such as an Android tablet or iPad, a phone or a computer.  These devices are rapidly becoming much smarter, and much better at putting different pieces of information together.

For example, my phone now tells me how long it will take to travel to work or home, even though I never told it where either location was.

It prompts me about upcoming events in my calendar, shows me news it thinks I’ll be interested in, tells me to update my contact list with new information from an email I received.  It isn’t much of a stretch to think that its alarm could turn on my coffee pot.

5.      Specialised hardware

In a lot of cases, specialised hardware is required, but even this is becoming more common place. It often boils down to a programmable computer chip that is connected into the device itself.  Add in a wireless network (or Z-Wave or Zigbee or..) transmitter and most of the hardware components are in place.

The most common hardware types are sensors (for example, to work out how much water, milk and coffee pods are in the coffee machine), wireless network connections, enough of a computer to translate the Hot Coffee Protocol into basic instructions like “turn the coffee on”, and hardware that can turn the coffee on when an electrical impulse passes along the right wire.

Summary

So that is a very quick intro to the Internet of Things – what it is, and how it works.

What new application for IoT are you waiting for the most?  Add your gadget wishlist to the comments below.

PS – If you found this interesting, please share it with your friends by using the share buttons below.  Thanks!

About the author

Leon Troeth is a Melbourne-based freelance technology copywriter.  Leon loves turning complex tech jargon and concepts into articles that everyone can understand.


Do driverless cars dream of being a convertible?

7 ways a driverless car will change your life

Category : technology

Earlier this week, I was thinking back to the first computer I owned over 30 years ago, and I was reminiscing at just how clunky it was in comparison to modern technology.  But then, I don’t have to think back that far to see how much my life has changed due to new technology.

It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was carrying around a Nokia brick, great for phone calls and text messaging but little else.  Now I spend a lot of my day looking up things on my Internet and app-enabled phone.  It’s not like I’m doing anything new – I had the ability to check the weather 30 years ago too.  It’s just becoming a lot easier to do it.

Do you want to see a movie?  No worries, I’ll just buy a ticket now and we can skip the queue.

Order pizza?  These days I order pizza on a phone app and it’s ready by the time I drive past.  I just walk in, pick it up and keep going.

I got to thinking about what is next? What is the next bit of technology that is going to change my day to day life?

Driverless cars

Driverless cars seem to be all the rage at the moment.  Many car manufacturers, and even a few other players like Google and Uber have come out and said that they’ll have something ready for 5-10 years from now.

Of course they’re not really new are they?  Michael Knight was driving around in one years ago..

Driverless is one thing, but to really be useful, I’m going to push the envelope and go for unsupervised driverless cars.

Here’s a taste of how my life would be different.

[If you would rather know how they work, skip to the bottom of this article!]

1.     No more picking up the shopping

The shopping is one of those chores that are hard to avoid.  After all, we’ve got to eat! I haven’t made the transition to online shopping yet.  One of the reasons is that I really don’t want to commit to being home to receive the delivery.

But how about if I could just send the car?

Some supermarkets already have a click and collect arrangement where I can order my goods online, then drop into the store and pick it up.

I’m sure they could make that a “send your car over to collect” service.  Beats me having to do it!

2.     No more walking to sporting events

My wife and I regularly head off to watch the footy (Go Cats!).  This usually means parking a fair distance away and hiking to the ground.  Even in Geelong, we’re parking a good ten minutes walk away from the ground.  The walk to Etihad stadium and the MCG in Melbourne is worse.

I would love to be able to get out of the car right next to the ground, then just tell it to go and park itself somewhere.

Afterwards, I can just give it a call and have it pick us up somewhere near the ground.

3.     No more expensive airport parking!

Speaking of parking – there seems to be nothing in the world more expensive than an airport car park.  The Melbourne airport in particular is a long way from home, and getting someone to drop us off is often a struggle.  So we end up driving ourselves.

When we get there, we’re often parking miles away and trying to juggle kids and bags through the car park, onto a long term car park bus and into the terminal.

I love going away, but the parking at the airport really brings the mood down.

I would love to get dropped off at the front door, then just send the car home for the week.  It can come back and pick us up when we get back.

No more expensive airport parking!

4.     No more paying for parking anywhere!

Actually, why not extend that?  Why pay for parking anywhere at all?  We can just drive into wherever we’re going and get the car to go and park itself wherever there is free parking.  Do I really care if it has to travel 5kms to find some?

No more city parking at $48 for a few hours!

[At this point, I wonder about how airport parking and other parking industries will survive in the world of driverless cars?]

5.     Pick up the kids from the train station, sporting events, etc.

By the time driverless cars are available, my kids are likely to be teenagers.  It would be great if the car can go and pick them up from their regular sporting events, or when they get back to the train station from a late night out in the city.

If anyone could make an automated way to drop off the kids to school and pick them up, all the while supervising them properly, they would be very, very rich!

6.     The car can take itself off for a service

This one is a bit of a problem in my family.  We have two cars.  The family all fits in one, but doesn’t fit in the other.  When we want to get the main car serviced, we have to drop it off and pick it up when we don’t have all of the kids at home.  This is a real pain to organise.

I would love the car to be able to drive itself off to the mechanic’s and bring it back when it’s ready!

7.     Catch up on sleep during those long drives

We have a lot of friends in Geelong, and are constantly driving from Melbourne to Geelong and back.  The activities when we get there are limited somewhat by how awake I am.  After all, I need to be alert enough to drive home late at night.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could stay out late then just sleep while the car drives us all the way home?

That would be awesome!

So how would a driverless car change your life?

What technology has made the biggest change for you?

PS – If you found this interesting, please share it with your friends by using the share buttons below.  Thanks!

PPS – I can’t let you go without saying something about how driverless cars actually work.  Here’s a nifty little overview, thanks to The Economist.

How a self-driving car works

How a self-driving car works

About the author

Leon Troeth is a Melbourne-based freelance technology copywriter.  Leon loves turning complex tech jargon and concepts into articles that everyone can understand.

Acknowledgements