Catch up on this week’s round-up of the latest hosting and tech news. Here’s what we’ve uncovered since our last edition.
Lightbulb moment for hackers
Scientists in Israel have discovered how hackers could listen in to conversations using everyday lightbulbs. The technique, known as Lamphone, works by recording the minute fluctuations in light frequency that bulbs give off when someone nearby speaks.
By using a remote electro-optical sensor, the researchers were able to capture the fluctuations from a distance of 25 metres and then analyse how the lightbulb’s frequency reacted to the sound. Surprisingly, they were able to transcribe the sounds into text using easy to access tools like Google’s Speech to Text API. When tested on music, the app Shazam was able to correctly discern the songs being played or sung.
AI revolutionises online clothes shopping
Another Israeli lightbulb moment came when a team of developers in Tel Aviv realised that 3D map topography software could be used on the human body. This led to the development of an app called Zeekit which shows shoppers exactly what they would look like wearing the clothes sold on online stores.
Users need to take an image of themselves which is then broken down by the app’s deep learning algorithm into 80,000 segments. It then does the same to images of the clothing and puts them together so that the clothes fit the shopper’s body shape.
While the technology can’t show what the material feels like or the quality of manufacturing, it does give a very realistic result of what a shopper would look like. A BBC reporter who tested the app out to buy a dress was ‘astonished’ at how well the virtual photo matched how she looked with the item on.
It’s good news for clothing retailers, helping increase sales, improve the customer experience and cut the number of returns. Shoppers are also going to find it very useful. The app works with thousands of online stores, including leading brands like Asos.
Amazon fights off monster DDoS attack
Amazon says it has successfully defended against the biggest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack ever launched against its cloud infrastructure. Cybercriminals carry out DDoS attacks to take websites and applications offline. They do this by swamping them with enormous numbers of server requests which use up all the server’s resources to prevent it from operating.
The latest attack saw bombardments of up to 2.3Tbs per second; that’s over 40% larger than the previous biggest attack back in 2018 and equal in size to 50% of the data moving on the BT network during peak times. The attack was also sustained, with AWS having to maintain elevated threat status for three days.
While Amazon successfully thwarted the attack, its sheer scale is a worry. To carry it out, the cybercriminals would have needed huge numbers of computers themselves. These would have been machines compromised by malware and under the control of criminal gangs sophisticated enough to offer ‘DDoS as a service’.
Robots filling in for farmworkers
The problems caused by the shortage of farmworkers following Brexit might be solved thanks to some very clever and agile robots developed by Dutch company, Cerescon. Its new asparagus picking robot can do the same work as about 80 people and carry it out quicker and more effectively.
White asparagus needs to be picked before it comes into contact with the surface and requires humans to sift through the soil looking for the plants before they can be harvested. The robot, on the other hands, uses sensors and AI to detect precisely where the asparagus is under the soil, enabling it to work much quicker. What’s more, its built on an industrial scale, the size of a combine harvester, so unlike humans which have to pull up asparagus shoots one at a time, it can pull up hundreds in one go.
With a little tweaking, the robot could be adapted to harvest various other forms of fruit and veg too.
HHDs make electric cars greener
While electric cars can help reduce carbon emissions, they are not as green as most people think. The magnets used to spin their motors are made from a rare earth metal called neodymium which predominantly comes from China. The mining and chemical processing of neodymium is anything but environmentally friendly and results in the destruction of landscapes and the production of toxic pollutants.
Neodymium magnets are also a key component in the HHDs used in computers and scientists at the University of Birmingham have developed an environmentally friendly way to recycle it. Simply by running hydrogen through an old hard drive, the neodymium turns into powder which can be reconstituted into magnets for use in electric vehicles.
With millions of computers being replaced every year, the numbers of old HHDs available means the UK could recycle enough neodymium to cut its Chinese imports by a quarter. This could reduce the impact caused by mining and processing and cut the cost of neodymium in the UK, potentially bringing down the price of an electric car.
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