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The Download, Jan 19, 2017: IoT Botnet Builder Unmasked, 2016’s Heat Record, and Soft Robot Help

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January 19, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Unmasking an IoT Botnet Builder
A security researcher claims to have established the identity of “at least one co-conspirator” who made many recent online attacks possible. Late last year, a series of hundreds of thousands of connected devices were hacked and used to send debilitating surges of data to servers. These so-called IoT botnets, which were used to take down websites and Internet infrastructure, were orchestrated using a piece of specially written malware known as Mirai. Now, security researcher and writer Brian Krebs has waded through the murky depths of the Internet to trace the identity of a co-author of the code, going by the username of Anna Senpai. In a lengthy post citing numerous sources and laying out corroborating evidence, Krebs claims that a Rutgers University student called Paras Jha helped write the code that's been causing havoc on the Internet.

Soft Robots to Help Humans, Inside and Out
Unlike the soft human form, robots tend to be a little stiff. But in order to help humans, two new robotics advances embrace pliability. First, a new soft robotic exosuit from the Harvard Biodesign Lab delivers extra force to a person’s ankles so that they expend less energy. The result: the wearer can walk 23 percent further than usual. Meanwhile, inside the body, researchers have developed a rubbery silicon robot sleeve that can be wrapped around an ailing heart. Acting as an artificial muscle, the device squeezes the blood-pumping organ to improve circulation. In experiments with six pigs suffering from heart disease, the device was able to restore regular blood flow to help keep them alive.

It’s Getting Hotter Than Ever in Here
The final word is in: 2016 was the hottest year on record. That’s according to NASA, NOAA, and the UK’s Met Office. According to NASA's data, globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 0.99° C above the 1951-1980 average. For what it’s worth, 2017 is likely to be hot, though it’s not clear that it will be another record-setter, as El Niño’s effects wane. Still, speaking to the Guardian, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt explains that “both 2015 and 2016 would have been records even without” the climate event, because, he says, 90 percent of the warming was due to rising levels of greenhouse gases. In other words: humans have caused most of this warming. The Paris climate agreement is designed to stop warming from reaching a 2 °C rise, with a best-case aim of ensuring that temperatures never nudge beyond a 1.5 °C increase—a figure we're perilously close to. Perhaps it's time for drastic action.


Six Fascinating Things

1. What’s the best way to stage a digital protest? For Juan Soberanis, it's a DDoS attack on during tomorrow’s presidential inauguration

2. The world’s largest ever initiative to develop vaccines for viruses that could pose an epidemic threat was launched in Davos yesterday with $460 million of funding.

3. A new laser-based system can write data to a magnetic memory bit in 20 trillionths of a second—which is 1,000 times faster than regular computer storage.

4. Manish Kumar was a competent coder with dreams of selling NSA-style software to national governments. But when he landed a contract, things didn’t go to plan.

5. The idea of replacing transistors with molecules in electronic circuits isn’t a new one. But the realities of what they could acheive are now beginning to crystalize.

6. Researchers built AI software that learns how to build AI software. Which could, perhaps, learn how to build AI software that learns how to build AI software that...

Quote of the Day

"People who expected me to act differently really didn't understand me. Because I've spent my entire professional life representing the insurgent against the incumbent.”

— As he steps down from his position as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler looks back on his time in office.

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