Sunday Nerding: The Clock That Changed The World

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technology

Before there was GPS, people still needed to sail the oceans of the world and know precisely where they were.

With a sextent, you could figure out your latitude, but not your longtitude. Enter the Longitude Rewards, a British government program to encourage someone – anyone – to find a accurate way to determine longitude.

Enter John Harrison, and his incredibly accurate clock.

Russian GNSS Spoofing

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technology

A recently released report from C4ADS following a year of research, appears to confirm the hacking and/or spoofing of GNSS transmissions by Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CYGNSS_concept_art.jpeg

GNSS is the collective term for “global navigation satellite systems“, of which the common GPS system is one. Russia and China are known to operate their own GNSS systems, alongside the GPS system developed by the US military.

The activities of the FSO – (in which it is apparent that false signals are deliberately broadcast to confuse GPS receivers, such as those you might have in your car, or those found in commercial ships or commercial aircraft) – are reputedly designed to keep attack drones away from Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

While this might seem like a not unreasonable use of such techniques, the report presents evidence that they are also using these techniques in Syria, possibly to confuse enemy military systems. There is of course a long running military conflict in the region.

It is therefore logical to assume that such techniques can and have been used all over the world at some time – past, present and future.

These techniques could be used to disrupt navigation in all sorts of transportation systems and infrastructures.

Russia shot down a Korean Air passenger jet in 1983 after an issue with the configuration of the navigation system on that Boeing 747. While this was found to be the fault of the pilots at the time, faulty navigation data could be used to initiate similar incidents, but with plausible deniability.

Quoting the report’s Executive Summary:

In this report, we present findings from a year-long investigation ending in November 2018 on an emerging subset of EW activity: the ability to mimic, or “spoof,” legitimate GNSS signals in order to manipulate PNT data. Using publicly available data and commercial technologies, we detect and analyze patterns of GNSS spoofing in the Russian Federation, Crimea, and Syria that demonstrate the Russian Federation is growing a comparative advantage in the targeted use and development of GNSS spoofing capabilities to achieve tactical and strategic objectives at home and abroad. We profile different use cases of current Russian state activity to trace the activity back to basing locations and systems in use.

The full report can be found here.

DARPA’s Open Source eVoting Initiative

Posted Posted in Technology

I’ve never been a fan of the concept of electronic voting. I’m still not a fan of electronic voting.

For the most part the idea that I might cast my vote, walk away from the machine that contains my vote, and not know what happens with that machine afterwards scares me.

How do I know my vote eventually gets counted?

It could be argued that a paper ballot in a ballot box might “go missing” too. Most systems have certain kinds of vulnerabilities, whether they be electronic or otherwise.

But can eVoting be made reliable and verifiable?

With this initiative from DARPA, I’ve moved into the “maybe” column. I’m not convinced, but this is the best concept I’ve heard to date.

It’s worth discussing, and we do need to understand that DARPA is part of the US Department of Defence. How much can we trust that?

As an open source initiative, their work would be able to be closely scrutinized by any interested party. This perhaps means the eventual product they develop can be trusted.

It contains a lot of verification mechanisms to instill confidence in it.

Here is their plan as discussed on the most recent episode of Security Now!


References

Fake News: Media Literacy for Our Kids?

Posted Posted in Musings

In this age of “fake news” and “native ads”, people are not critical enough about the information presented to them. They end up believing what they want to believe.

How do we tackle this? How do we teach our children to recognise this phenomenon? How do we give them the tools to understand and review information for themselves, lest “fake news” becomes a scourge for all time?

In a recent episode of This Week in Tech, contributor Mikah Sargent spoke of how he undertook a ‘media literacy’ course whilst in college.

I could help but thinking how good an idea this was.

Teaching our children how to defend themselves against vested interests controlling our media will be an important democratic tool in the future.

What do you think?

When Journalists Were Journalists

Posted Posted in Musings

There are many fine examples of journalism in the world today, but we unfortunately live in an age where “fake news” and the selective acceptance or non-acceptance of “facts” is prevalent.

As such, for consumers of news, understanding what is really happening in the world today can be confusing.

Not to mention, misleading.

The downing by Soviet fighter jets of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983 was a tragic, yet fascinating story of tragedy and international politics, spanning more than a decade.

Here is a fabulous piece presenting an insight into how the beginning of this story was covered.  This is reflective of just the San Francisco area at the time – at a time when journalists really were journalists.

Sunday Nerding: Apollo Guidance Computer

Posted Posted in Technology

Like many a nerd, not only do I love computers and computing, I also love space exploration.

Today I present a magnificent combination of the two, as a group of what can only be described as massive enthusiasts, work at getting an actual Apollo Guidance Computer – (which hasn’t been powered up in around 50 years) – up and running, and executing actual NASA Apollo code.

While this particular unit was never flown into space – (it is understood to be serial number 14, which was used in LTA-8) – it is basically an almost flight-ready prototype.

Is it Huawei or the Highway?

Posted Posted in Technology

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around whether allowing Huawei telecommunications equipment into major infrastructure is a good idea or not.

Given the company has strong and proven ties to the Chinese military, I don’t think it is even unreasonable to have an honest discussion about the security implications of using their equipment.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/HuaweiCanada9.jpg/1280px-HuaweiCanada9.jpg

However, if we’re going to have such a discussion about their equipment, we should have the entire discussion.

An excellent example is the common HG659 modem/router, in use all over the world, including extensively in Australian premises as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

The HG659 is an extremely popular modem with ISPs, because it is an extremely versatile modem.  It supports both ADSL and VDSL connections, and FTTP connections.  For this reason it is widely deployed in Australia as part of the “multi-technology mix” hodge-podge Malcolm Turnbull turned the NBN into for political reasons, rather than for technology reasons.

Australian ISPs using the HG659 therefore only have to stock one type of modem, and you as the end user just plug it into whatever NBN technology is serving your premises, and the modem self-configures to suit.

Done!

A great number of Australian ISPs use it – (and brand it with their own logos) – see a selection below:

ISPs in other countries also use it:

The use of the HG659 modem is widespread worldwide – including in jurisdictions where the lawmakers are seeking to ban the use of Huawei equipment in telecommunications systems, such as Australia and the United States.

I’ve even read of instances where one Australian ISP appears to have an active backdoor into their private customer’s networks, using the custom firmware in their supplied HG659 modems.

But why ban Huawei in the implementation of 5G networks, but happily welcome them into other significant network infrastructure?

One might argue that having a footprint inside millions of homes is a bigger concern than having them in mobile phone towers – (which can be and are actively monitored by the carriers operating them, and suspicious activity might be detected) – as the vast majority of home users get the modem from their ISP, plug it into the wall and never think about it again.

Monitoring?  Yeah, right.

I think the politicians are clearly – (as is often the case) – trying to make a political point without having any real understanding of what they are talking about.

Huawei may or may not present information or national security issues, but if you’re going to take a stand against them, you cannot and should not be so selective.

Ban them or don’t ban them – but just don’t half-ass your decision.

Further Reading:

Sunday Nerding: Secrets of the Underground

Posted Posted in Transport

Aside from being a computer nerd, I’m also something of a train nerd.  Not sure why, but I’ve always loved trains.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattbuck007/7286159124

While I’ve been to London, I’ve never left the confines of Heathrow Airport, and so haven’t had the chance to do what every train nerd would love to do – ride The Underground.

The following series of videos show some of the fun and less obvious parts of The Underground, presented by possibly the biggest and best train nerd going around, Geoff Marshall.

This series is almost six years old, but is a good watch if you have about an hour to spare and a cup of coffee to consume.