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Australia To Trial World’s First Cloud-Based Passports

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Australia has moved to introduce passport-less travel in a disruptive move that could cause bureaucracies throughout the world to reconsider business as usual. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop predicts her country’s move will go global.

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The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs reportedly held a hackathon – all encompassing of an X-Factor style audition before the secretary Peter Varghese, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Assistant Minister Steve Ciobo and Chris Vein from the World Bank.

We think it will go global.

– Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Media.

Earlier in 2015, diplomatic corps in Canberra looked for a “radical rethink of business as usual” for Australia. Over half of the global staff in more than 100 locations throughout the world submitted, voted or commented on at least one of the 392 pitches to the “DFAT Ideas challenge.” As Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) describes:

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The top 10 were presented to the quartet of judges, who favoured the idea of passport-less travel. Under a cloud passport, a traveller’s identity and biometrics data would be stored in a cloud, so passengers would no longer need to carry their passports and risk having them lost or stolen. DFAT says 38,718 passports were registered as lost or stolen in 2014-15, consistent with the 38,689 reported missing the previous year.

Australia and New Zealand, moreover, have entered discussions about trialing such cloud passports together. Ms. Bishop, who unveiled the idea at the InnovationXChange, cautions about strict security requirements needed to store biometrics in the cloud, yet remains optimistic for the possibilities which exist.

InnovationXchange is the minister’s personal initiative. The attitude at the InnovationXchange headquarters is said to be laid back. Ms. Bishop claims the headquarters “would be at home in Silicon Valley.”  As SMH writes:

Staff dress casually and are encourage to shun suits. But the serious results they are already achieving in InnovationXchange’s short life are attracting attention from other departments, which have visited the team of nine staff to observe how they are challenging the cultural norms of bureaucracy.

This is not the first nation-state initiative towards a cloud-based passport and governance system. Estonia’s e-Citizenship program seeks to automate many government bureaucracies.  Here are just some of the services:

  • e-Cabinet
  • e-Law
  • e-Police
  • e-Prescription
  • e-School
  • Electronic Health Record
  • m-Parking

The e-Estonia model of web-based governance is quite radical.

“We hope that in the future the development of the e-Residency platform may be compared to the Apple App Store or Android Google Play,” the project stated.

InnovationXchange is pioneering an initiative inclusive of a US$100million data collection service in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg sits on Innovation Xchange’s reference group. His organization will pledge $85 million with the Australian government contributing $15 million.

“That’s my idea of public-private leverage,” Ms. Bishop said.

Basic births and deaths in 20 countries will be collected and will be available to governments, NGOs, and the media.

Image from Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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  1. andrea

    October 31, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    OH YEAH , Nothing wrong with hacking this system at all is there! what a stupid idea for all freedom loving people in this world. tracked by a “cloud” now truly nothing will stop them from tracking you no matter where you physically go..let alone your banking ( e-chip_ your car, your purchases, your travels to what country, DO NOT let these “people” rule you like this. NO to cloud based passports we are not tied to a “passport” we are free people’s!!we don’t a stinking passport . Next will we need permission slips to walk the sidewalk to work?

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Meltdown and Spectre Gave Us Another Reminder of Crypto Vulnerabilities

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Meltdown and spectre

The Meltdown and Spectre news in the beginning of 2018 looms over the cryptocurrency world like a big dark cloud. It has been reported that there is a flaw in the design of Intel’s processor chips that makes the system susceptible to hackers. In an article about the bug, The Register reports that this vulnerability lets the unauthorized programs distinguish the “layout or contents of protected kernel memory areas.” This has busied the programmers of companies like Microsoft and Google to create patches for the two exploits – Meltdown and Spectre.

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Breaking down “Meltdown” and “Spectre”

Often computer bugs and viruses make the headlines but this time the flaw is in the design of the Intel processor. Immediate steps were taken to correct the flaws such that the users’ data remain protected within the system (Windows, Linux). The exploits Meltdown and Spectre can be used to access the area where the device stores and protects the passwords. The exploits were brought to light by Google.

The revelation of the bug shook the world as any device that has an Intel chip and connects to the internet can be the target of the hackers.

According to Google, the hackers can “read sensitive information in [a] system’s memory, such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications”.

Meltdown breaks the isolation between a user application and the operating system while Spectre breaks the isolation between two user applications. The Meltdown attack enables a program to access the device memory (secrets of other programs and the operating system). The Spectre attack, on the other hand, tricks an error-free program to leak its secrets.

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The Impact of Meltdown and Spectre on Security                

Devices that were manufactured and have Intel chips from 1995 (except Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013) to approximately 2011 have high chances of being affected by the two exploits. Whenever a running program works (open a network connection or write to a file), the program hands over the control of the processor temporarily to the kernel. In order to fasten the transition of control from user to kernel and back to the user, the kernel is present in all the virtual memory address spaces of the processor. The kernel’s memory space is not visible to the user processes and programs. The kernel memory houses all the login keys, passwords, files cached and so on. If the system is hacked into due to this flaw, the hacker at the worst scenario will be able to read all the passwords and login keys. This means that they will be able to access all the accounts of the user and collect critical data and account details. The hacker will thus be able to transact money from a person’s bank account by simply giving the login details. Several businesses and institutions using devices manufactured within this period (stated previously) are at risk. Vital project details and company secrets may be leaked out.

The Cure of Meltdown and Spectre

One of the solutions is to randomize the position of the kernel’s code in the memory of the device such that the exploits cannot find the internal gadgets. The hackers would then need to fully compromise the system. The security programmers have already released the first wave of patches to Windows 10, MacOS, Android and Linux. These fixes were speculated to slow down the system. As near about 90% of the devices have Intel chips, one can understand that it will be a large scale backlog. Intel, however, has released a statement the solution will not slow down the computers as much as speculated.

“Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.”

Intel recommends the users to regularly check for device updates and immediately install and execute them such that the hackers do not find any opportunity to breach the security.

How Meltdown and Spectre Affect the Cryptocurrency Market

The Meltdown and Spectre news came forward on 3rd January 2018 and on the next day itself the cryptocurrency exchange had to take numerous wallets offline. It is a reminder and warning that how much the cries are that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is safe; the safety may be simply superficial. The cryptocurrency account holders, therefore, are right to fear the consequences of such an attack. Most of the cryptocurrency exchanges completely rely on the cloud storage system. The cloud computing providers usually save data from different clients on the same server. Theoretically speaking, the attacker can access all the accounts if the server is hacked. After the news, many exchanges like CEX.io, Kucoin and Einstein Exchange had to take the wallets offline. While some of the crypto exchanges are on the way to implement the patch others simply refer to maintenance. The plus side is that the cryptocurrency miners are most likely to remain unaffected.

“An attacker who has knowledge of a sufficiently powerful vulnerability can theoretically force your CPU to reveal secret data such as private keys used to control your Bitcoin.” said Bryan Bishop, Bitcoin Core developer.

The cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are always portrayed as secure protocols. But they need to save the private keys properly, preferably in a device that does not have access to the internet. Bryan Bishop further says that to become a victim of this attack, all the user has to do is to click on a link by mistake. The link opens up to a website that displays bad ads with a malware code that is more likely going to steal your data.

Other than a miner or a cryptocurrency trader, the threat is also serious for the cryptocurrency exchanges. If a hacker targets a crypto-based business or exchange then, they will get access to millions of account holders at one go. The exchanges are dependent on cloud hosting services and these, in turn, are susceptible to these attacks. Hopefully, the solution of patches will tide over until a better solution is reached that will completely eliminate the risk.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Trade.io Aims to Solve the Problems Plaguing Online Forex Brokers

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If you’re looking to trade online forex, the first question is determining which brokers are reliable and which are total scams. The annals of Web 2.0 are filled with an ungodly number of forex scams, shady businesses and multi-level marketers. This has spawned an entire community of vigilantes looking to keep pace with the latest forex scam hitting the market.

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Although reputable brokers have secured a mile-wide lead on the competition, the retail forex world still has a long way to go to clean up its image. Exuberant fees and a lack of transparency are just some of the issues that currently plague the industry.

It is against this backdrop that Trade.io launched its blockchain-based trading platform.

Trade.io Platform

The company recently launched its pre-ICO with great fanfare, attracting nearly $9 million in funding with time to spare. According to the company’s whitepaper, the platform offers cryptocurrency trading as well as broad access to forex and contracts for difference (CFDs) spanning precious metals, oil, commodities, indices and equities.

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Trade.io will use blockchain technology to launch a peer-to-peer trading platform that also functions as a launchpad to other token raises. Hacked has also learned from the team at that it will sponsor an academic incubator to further advance the blockchain space. Clearly, this is about more than just trading.

But on the subject of trading, the Trade.io team identified three major problems their platform was trying to solve.

Problem 1: Dealing desks

When it comes to forex trading, a dealing desk allows brokers to offset trades issued by their clients. In other words, they can give their client real market conditions on MT4, but don’t actually fulfill the trade. In the event that the trader earns profit, the broker pays out of pocket. From the broker’s perspective, this is where solid risk management skills are needed.

By leveraging blockchain and peer-to-peer technology, all brokerage transactions will appear on the public ledger. This effectively makes it impossible for brokers to trade against the client.

To be fair, dealing desks aren’t inherently bad, provided that the broker is liquid and in good standing. It’s also never a good idea to claim you do not operate a dealing desk when you do in fact work one. (Let’s just say this is more common than you think.)

Problem 2: Lack of transparency

One of the most powerful aspects of the blockchain is transparency, and this cuts across many lines. Online brokerages have been known to nickel and dime their customers via inefficiencies and exorbitant fees. Trade.io says its platform will reduce, and in some cases, eliminate high fees associated with the financial markets. We are not sure if this also applies to spreads, but we may soon find out.

Problem 3: Lack of innovation

Although forex brokers have been known to move swiftly on technology, they all tend to follow the same standard template. This extends beyond the assets covered to include the trading infrastructure (i.e. MT4/MT5) governing their platform. According to Trade.io, these brokers have been especially slow at integrating new blockchain solutions. This, in fact, is currently impacting much of the financial industry.

The people at Trade.io are attempting to incentivize participation through the public ledger. This appears to be more of a holistic strategy than any one particular selling point. According to the whitepaper:

“Blockchain technology changes all that for the first time due to its decentralized, incorruptible nature. Control isn’t handed over to a single entity, organisation or government, but rather is shared among all of its network users, thus transparency may be achieved at last.”

It remains to be seen whether Trade.io or platforms like it will be able to solve the myriad of challenges facing online brokers. The blockchain certainly isn’t the only new paradigm shift impacting the forex world. However, there’s little to suggest that brokers cannot integrate it to their benefit.

Social trading is another paradigm shift that the brokerage community has embraced with open arms. The results have been quite positive as more platforms enable collaboration among traders, analysts and other market participants. Blockchain might prove a little more complex, but resilience isn’t something that the best brokers have necessarily lacked.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Bitcoin Giant Bitmain Enters the High Stakes AI Race

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Artificial Intelligence

The Sophon, named for a fictional proton-sized supercomputer, could be the tool to train neural networks in data centers worldwide. It is the latest project being developed by Bitmain Technologies Ltd., the bitcoin mining giant that has carved out a dominant position in bitcoin mining.

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Such chips, called application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), could unleash a new wave of distributed computing, according to Michael Bedford Taylor, a University of Washington professor who studies bitcoin mining and chips.

Sophon is due to debut before the end of the year.

Bitmain Has The Know-How

Bitmain has the background to play a role in the expanding artificial intelligence industry. The company designs the silicon that goes in bitcoin mining equipment, assembles the machines and sells them worldwide, in addition to its own bitcoin mining operation and the ones that it manages for other mining pools.

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Bitmain’s founders are not averse to playing a spoiler role.

Jihan Wu, the co-founder of Bitmain, supports the New York Agreement that seeks to double the bitcoin block size under the SegWit2X proposal, a move that some in the bitcoin community view as an attempt to give the miners control over bitcoin.

Some also believe Wu was behind the recent bitcoin split known as bitcoin cash, which at least one of Bitmain’s miners supported, a contention that Wu has denied. Wu points out that he was among the supporters of Bitcoin Unlimited, an earlier bitcoin scaling proposal that did not get activated.

Why Wu Supports Forks

Wu nonetheless said splits should be allowed. He said a fork is inevitable since people in the bitcoin community do not agree on how to best scale bitcoin.

Wu met Micree Zhan, Bitcoin’s co-founder, when Zhan was running DivaIP in 2010, a company that made a device that allowed a user to stream a TV show on a computer screen.

In 2011, Wu needed a chip designer to build a mining operation and approached Zhan. Zhan first designed an ASIC to run SHA-256, the cryptographic calculation used in bitcoin, at maximum efficiency. It took him six months to finish the job. His first rig, Antminer S1, was ready in November 2013.

Bitmain felt the sting of the 2014 Mt. Gox meltdown. But by 2015, bitcoin’s price bottomed out and later recovered. In the meantime, Bitmain introduced its Antminer S5.

Bitmain now employs 600 people in Beijing.

Also read: Bitmain clarifies its ‘bitcoin cash’ fork position

Ready To Take On Google

Bitmain has since developed a deep learning chip with improved efficiency. Users will be able to build their own models on the ASICs, enabling neural networks to deliver results at a faster pace. Google’s DeepMind unit used this technique to train its AlphaGo artificial intelligence.

Bitmain plans to sell the chips to any company looking to train its own neural nets, including firms like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. Bitmain could build its own data centers with thousands of deep learning rigs, renting out the computation power to clients the way it does with bitcoin mines.

Professor Taylor said companies like Bitmain that have excelled in bitcoin mining could take on the Googles and Nvidias since they have developed the skills to survive in an ultra-competitive and highly commoditized industry, and have the system level design expertise and the ability to reduce data center costs.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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