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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 18th Apr 2016

On October 12th, 1983, Bill Landreth called his friend Chris in Detroit to chat. Chris frantically explained that the FBI had raided his house. “Don’t call me anymore,” Chris said in what would be a very short conversation. Bill didn’t know exactly what was happening, but he did know this: If the FBI had come for Chris, then he might be next.

The next day, around a dozen FBI agents stormed Bill’s parent’s house just outside of San Diego, amassing piles of evidence including a computer that Bill, then 18, had hidden under his sister’s bed. Bill and Chris, who was 14 at the time, were the leaders of a coalition of teen hackers known as The Inner Circle. In a single day, the FBI conducted coordinated raids of group members across nine states, taking computers, modems, and copious handwritten notes detailing ways to access various networks on what was then a rudimentary version of the internet.

The Inner Circle was a motley group of about 15 hackers, almost all teenagers, from Southern California, Detroit, New York, and roughly five other regions of the US. Bill, Chris, and other members of their collective had been accessing all kinds of networks, from GTE’s Telemail—which hosted email for companies like Coca-Cola, Raytheon, Citibank, and NASA—to the Arpanet, which was largely used by university researchers and military personnel until Milnet was completed in the mid-1980s. Chris was fond of boasting on message boards about hacking the Pentagon. The Inner Circle wasn’t the only teen hacking group of the early 1980s, but their interference with both government networks and the email accounts of large corporations put them on the FBI’s radar. Along with the 414s, a group busted around the same time, the raids made national headlines. The Inner Circle’s actions would inspire a complete overhaul in how computer crime was prosecuted, through the introduction of the country’s first anti-hacking laws in 1984.

I decided to track down members of The Inner Circle, and find out what happened during their heyday and infamous bust, and where it’s led them today. In the process, I’ve obtained 351 pages of FBI documents about early-80s teen hacker communities through a Freedom of Information Act request. The pages are heavily redacted, but they fill in some of the many holes that remain about The Inner Circle, the FBI’s crash course in computers, and the teen computer underground of the early 1980s.

After WarGames came out in June 1983, every wannabe hacker with more money than sense went out and got a computer and modem...
The story of Bill and Chris is one of simple curiosity, and the birth of the modern internet in an era before computer hacking laws existed. It was an era when most of America—including virtually everyone in the FBI—couldn’t tell you what a modem was. This period, from roughly 1979 until 1983, was a mythical Wild West for kids who became interested in computers, and saw the rising popularity (and declining price) of personal computers as well as the release of the movie Wargames. The kids of this period were early adopters, and they got into plenty of trouble.

After WarGames came out in June 1983, every wannabe hacker with more money than sense went out and got a computer and modem from places like RadioShack, thinking they could get their fingers close to the big red button. It didn’t work that way, of course. But there were plenty of other hijinks that kids of the early 1980s could pull with a computer, a phone line, and the special brand of fearlessness that comes with youth.

The FBI started tracking The Inner Circle in 1982, but it wasn’t until late 1983 that they’d finally bust the group. In large part, that bust was possible because of a 42-year-old pseudo-vigilante hacker known as John Maxfield—a former phone phreak who fancied himself the proto-internet’s sheriff. Maxfield gained the trust of teen hacker communities on bulletin board systems (BBSs) in the early 1980s and fed the information to the FBI.

Maxfield provided the FBI with the intelligence they needed on The Inner Circle’s exploits, especially when it came to the hacking of Telenet’s Telemail email system. Chris, frustrated and bored, had started deleting emails of Coca-Cola executives and using administrator passwords to change the names on accounts. GTE, the company that operated the Telemail service, wasn’t pleased. After all, the hackers were using Telemail “illegally.” Which is to say, for free. FBI documents spell out just how much time was being stolen by these kids, right down to the penny. For example, use of BMW’s messaging service by unauthorized users in September, 1983, cost GTE $0.29. Unauthorized use of Raytheon’s accounts in the same month totaled $298. But it was the widespread loss of faith in the system’s security that was most damaging to GTE.

I spoke with Bill and Chris, but was unable to connect with any other of The Inner Circle members or Maxfield. A letter sent to Maxfield’s last known PO Box has yet to receive a reply, and the last known number I could find for him was disconnected. For all I know, he’s dead. Or he’s elderly and keeping a low profile. Maxfield always tried to stay off the radar, but after he was exposed as an FBI informant in late 1983, he became the most loathed man on the internet.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet
Bill’s tablet, coffee, lighter, and DIY apple pipe for his medical marijuana (Photo by Matt Novak)
When I met Bill Landreth at a Starbucks in Santa Monica, he was sitting quietly at a table drinking coffee with two bags on the the seat across from him, and a bag of blankets in the corner. A pipe made out of an apple and filled with what I assumed was medical marijuana sat at the table next to his coffee and Samsung tablet. A passing cop glanced at the spread but didn’t raise an eyebrow.

Arranging our meeting was tricky, because Bill isn’t sure where he’ll be sleeping from night to night. Now 52, with a slight goatee and a tussle of wavy hair that nearly reaches his shoulders, Bill has been living on the streets for 30 years. But if it weren’t for his receding hairline and a certain grayness to his gaze, he’d probably pass for a decade younger. There’s something assertive yet firmly guarded about the way he speaks. It’s as though Bill’s a man who’s not afraid to say what he thinks, but still worries about saying something out of line in front of me.

In our conversation, he was calm, affable, and clearly intelligent, and almost immediately began rattling off computers and computing languages of which I have little to no background or understanding.

Bill got his first computer in 1980, he tells me. It was a TRS-80 from RadioShack. He was 14 or 15, and explains that he planned to get the version with 8K of memory using $500 he had saved. His dad offered to pitch in another $500, and he got the 16K version with a cassette tape drive for storage. He also picked up a 300 baud modem.

Bill was a quick learner, and developed a knack for the BASIC programming language. From there he’d learn other languages, and his desire to explore the world of computing became overpowering. After he’d conquered one area, there was always something new around the corner. He was an explorer; more interested in mapping the entire terrain than in penetrating deep into any given network. Bill, who would take up the moniker The Cracker, found community with an emerging group of misfits online. They gave him a sense of place in the new world he was traversing.

“You didn’t really meet many of the other people,” Bill says. “You could go out of your way to try to.” But Bill’s connections were through his modem and phone.

He’s the son of two hippies who spent much of his childhood living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. His dad, an astronomy lover, built telescopes under the brand name Essential Optics. But he only charged people for parts at cost, and hardly charged anything for his labor. The only moderate business success Bill’s father ever had was selling grow lamps in the 1970s. He even bought full page ads for the lamps (ostensibly to grow tomatoes) in High Times magazine.

Despite his friend Chris’s warning on October 12, 1983, Bill wasn’t sure that the FBI was coming for him when they did. Aside from his grow-lamp business, Bill’s dad had a tendency to go up to Big Bear (a rural, touristy area about four hours outside of LA) to pick up LSD and cocaine. To this day, Bill’s still not convinced that there wasn’t some attempt by the FBI to get at his father through him.

But they had come for Bill. Along with other teenage nerds in his collective, Bill was “hacking” the first commercial packet-switched network, Telenet. The Telenet network (now owned by Raytheon) was inspired by the structure of the Arpanet, and had local hosts in 52 cities by the early 1980s. Tapping into that network’s mail system allowed Bill and his hacker friends to make local calls to chat, rather than tricking the phone system into letting them make long distance calls for free—a necessity if you wanted to post on a BBS outside your area code without amassing huge bills.

Someone told Bill that administrator accounts for GTE’s Telemail simply used a capital A for the password. “So I would just try last names with capital A and I would get a lot of accounts,” Bill tells me. “So that was what let me in to be able to make other people’s accounts, and we’d just have conversations.”

Bill’s plea agreement is thin, with just eight pages detailing his “crimes.” In 1983 there were no computer hacking laws, but the courts in Virginia clearly thought that penetration of computer networks was a serious crime, even if nothing was stolen. So Bill was charged with wire fraud, which essentially amounted to the crime of making three phone calls with his computer.

When we leave Starbucks and go to lunch, Bill packs up his tablet and charger and puts on his backpack. He throws his clear plastic bag, filled with blankets and a small tent, over his head, carrying the enormous parcel with the weight distributed on his pack and the back of his neck.

As we eat, Bill tells me stories of the past 30 years, of his struggles with mental illness and living on the streets of San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara. We trade stories about the different psychiatric medications we’ve tried. I’ve been having issues with my depression and mood stabilizer meds, which make me incredibly tired throughout the day. Bill’s convinced that self-medication is the way to go. He shares that he’s been diagnosed as manic depressive and has had a few involuntary trips to the local mental health facility via police—the “taxi service,” as he calls them. Bill tells me that when it comes to basic hygiene, he showers at his brother’s place in town. I can’t bring myself to ask why he doesn’t live with his brother.

Throughout lunch I try asking in at least three different ways what Bill’s motivation for hacking was. Each time, it was like asking someone why they’d read a book or watch a movie. Bill says he just wanted to know what was out there. There’s a blunt cadence in his tone that makes me believe him, and the FBI documents bear this out. When he’d crack into financial institutions it was always shallow. He wasn’t looking to steal a million bucks or get deep into any system for personal gain. But he did enjoy being a voyeur. Bill and his friends would often pull pranks, like getting all the phone operators from a certain area on a giant conference call together. Chris even got a bunch of senior military personnel on what must have been the most confusing phone call of all time.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet
A heavily redacted page from the FBI’s file on the Inner Circle hacking group
Despite having his home raided and computer equipment seized, Bill wouldn’t be charged for nine months. He says he didn’t want to get a lawyer and was confident that he could fight on his own. Bill tells me his strategy would’ve been to convince a jury or judge that his crime was like walking into a huge mansion, unlocked. He just wanted a look around. As Bill explains his thought process I hold my tongue, knowing that this line of reasoning makes sense to someone who grew up in a hippie family and the Western ethos of exploration that often comes with it. But I also knew that it wouldn’t have worked for a second in front of a federal judge on the other side of the country.

Bill’s father convinced him that he needed a lawyer; a move Bill still thinks was a mistake. They struck a deal, giving Bill three years probation for pleading guilty to three counts of wire fraud. Bill’s family moved to Alaska and Bill moved in with friends in Poway, California. Without a computer, he went dark on the BBS boards. He attended the University of California-San Diego for a while, but soon traveled to Mexico and then to Oregon. He never told his probation officer where he was going, and was picked up in Oregon and flown to San Diego, where he served 3 months in jail.

After getting out, Bill knew he had to find a way to make money. He weighed about 120 pounds at the time and needed income. Bill says he was “sort of fasting,” though his eyes betray that he probably didn’t have any money for food. Rather, he found his desire for a computer even more important than his hunger.

“I really wanted a computer but I couldn’t figure out how to make money to buy a computer,” Bill says. “When I first bought a computer [in 1980] I already had $500, but by this time I didn’t really have any money saved up or anything.”

So he cut out all the headlines he’d collected from friends across the country; splashy sensationalistic spreads about The Cracker’s big FBI bust. He found a literary agent, and wrote his entire book proposal by hand before hammering it out on an old typewriter. His agent got two responses, one from Microsoft, which offered a $5,500 advance. The book, co-authored by Howard Reinghold, was published in 1984 under the title Out of the Inner Circle. Bill immediately spent the entire sum of his advance on a new computer.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet
Bill Landreth in high school circa early 1980s (left) Bill Landreth on the cover of his book Out of The Inner Circle (right)
When his royalty checks started drying up around two years later, Bill looked for work here and there. He took a job with Scientology that promised $200 a week selling books, but quickly learned that he’d be making $1 a day and promptly quit. Today he’s able to feed himself, buy medicinal weed, and sometimes splurge on a tablet thanks to Social Security payments and California food stamps. But he hasn’t had a stable home since high school.

Bill’s entire existence is stuffed into three bags, and keeping an eye on them is a constant struggle. When his stuff is stolen, he often doesn’t know if it’s by other homeless people or the police. He says he has to buy new blankets once every three weeks. And his $150 Samsung tablet is always in danger of getting stolen.

Bill’s life, he says, is a constant stream of indignities and harassment from police. They enforce ordinances arbitrarily and inconsistently, trying to push homeless people out of sight. Bill tells me of a bridge he was sleeping under in Santa Barbara. An officer approached him, handcuffed him, searched all his belongings, and told him he couldn’t sleep on that side of the road under the bridge. He was cited for “illegal camping” but was told that sleeping on the other side was okay. So the next night he moved across the street. The police officer came back and gave him another ticket. Bill figures he has about $10,000 in unpaid legal fees and fines—most of it interest on the debt that grows and grows over time.

It couldn’t be further from the life of Chris, the 14-year-old who exchanged a brief phone call with Bill after his own FBI raid. Chris’s story is that of a kid who grew up to thrive in the culture of our burgeoning internet. With just a few minor tweaks, Bill’s story could have been similar. Bill tells me he hasn’t talked with Chris in 30 years, and they never met in person. But he has only fond memories of their friendship from halfway across the country.

“Growing up in Detroit there wasn’t a vast amount of things to do...”
I spoke with Chris over the phone under the condition that I not use his real name. In the early 1980s he was known online as the Wizard of Arpanet, a moody punk who bragged incessantly about the networks he’d penetrated. Today, he’s an upstanding family man “working with computers” (he declined to get specific) in a suburb of Detroit.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about the Wizard of Arpanet days,” Chris tells me over the phone from his home outside Detroit. Chris was 14 when the FBI came knocking on his door.

Chris was an Atari guy, and his first computer was an Atari 2600. “You could plug in a basic cartridge and it had like 1k of memory and you could do some cool stuff with it. Then you kinda stepped up to the Atari 400, which was cool because you could do some programming but then you could get the modem—that 300 baud modem on there. Then you started to figure out what you could do with a 300k baud modem.”

Much like Bill, Chris found that his computer was a connection to the outside world; a sense of community that he couldn’t find elsewhere. “Growing up in Detroit there wasn’t a vast amount of things to do, so you had this modem and you start exploring,” Chris says. “You find your first bulletin board and then that bulletin board has a little bit of information on it and you kind of... that’s what intrigued me. In a general sense it hasn’t really revolutionized much from there—you called in to the bulletin board, you post messages, and you call in back and forth. It was a lot slower and there were no graphics, but the essential kind of concept was the same [as today].”

The key to hacking in the early 1980s was figuring out how to make free phone calls. Phone phreakers had been doing this since the 1960s, but it was even more vital for precursors to our modern internet. Dialing into a BBS in your area code wouldn’t cost too much. But if you were in Detroit and wanted to access a board outside your area code, that meant long distance calls. And long distance calls used to be damn expensive. So any computer hacker worth his salt quickly learned how to “hack” the phone company—and that’s what the Wizard of Arpanet started doing.

“That opens up the world,” Chris tells me. “Now I can call a BBS in New York or I can call this board over here in San Diego. And then you start getting out there.”

And once you were “out there,” the hackers of The Inner Circle and elsewhere would have a variety of ways to break into networks. Except that during this period, security was so weak that “break” is too strong a word. An operating manual could yield active administrator passwords for a variety of systems simply because nobody bothered to change the default passwords.

Chris’s true love, though he’s reluctant to talk about it today, was hacking the Arpanet and military systems. In fact, that’s how I found him. I was researching what kind of espionage the Soviet Union was conducting on the Arpanet and Milnet in the 1980s. We know of a few Soviet hackers who were looking for state secrets, but there were also kids like Chris rummaging around MIT, Stanford, and UCLA for fun.

“Then we started to get some of the Arpanet stuff, and somehow I got one of the main dial-in connection points,” Chris tells me. “And from there it was just kind of discovering all the different hosts.”

“Once you were able to get into one, I was able to get the full host list. So I got the full list of hosts on the Arpanet just from snooping around. From that point I was able to go through and just test them all out,” Chris says. What he had tapped into was known as a TIP, sort of like a super-modem that routed information along the Arpanet. According to the FBI documents I obtained, the military and researchers at the various nodes on the Arpanet had not detected the penetration. Their informant, the BBS narc John Maxfield, was the one who learned about it straight from the Wizard of Arpanet’s mouth.

Chris had no idea that he was constantly being watched by one of his own. Maxfield, who went by the handle Cable Pair on BBS boards, was never approached by the FBI about the activities he was observing in the early 1980s. Instead, Maxfield approached them. He’d later recall walking into the FBI to tell them about the kids swapping software on BBS boards. The FBI replied that this sounded like a bad thing, but got tripped up when he started using words like “modem.” They had no idea what he was talking about.

But after Maxfield’s initial contact, he developed a long term relationship with the agency. He set up meetings with hackers to gather evidence firsthand, and once allowed the FBI to photograph the kids from across the street in a massive sting operation.

“He invited a bunch of the different hackers from around the country to visit [him in Detroit]. So we all got together—it was like a hacker jam session—at the guy’s offices with all this phone equipment and computers,” Chris says. High school and college kids came from around the country. “It was like… ‘let me show you what I can can do,’ and ‘let me show you this.’”

Maxfield would say later that he was particularly impressed by the Wizard of Arpanet’s skills. Chris had no idea that he was incriminating himself with every keystroke. “The FBI took pictures of everybody that came and went, and they also had some early sort of keyboard monitors back then to see what was going on,” Chris says. “I happened to show them, ‘hey here’s the whole host list for the Arpanet! Take a look at this! This is pretty cool, I can get on any of these computers!’”

Maxfield rarely talked to the press after the raids, but journalist Patricia Franklin spoke to him for her 1990 book Profits of Deceit: Dispatches From the Front Lines of Fraud. When I contacted Franklin recently, she wasn’t surprised that Maxfield was hard to track down. He was secretive and self-righteous, she said, and used the same rhetoric that has become common in the 21st century whenever people talk about hacking or copyright infringement.

“Hacking is a completely impersonal, dehumanized crime,” Maxfield told her. “None of them would dream of taking a knife or a gun and mugging someone on the street. The hacker doesn’t know his victim and the victim never knows the hacker. There is never any physical risk involved. They are introverted thrill seekers.”

That tone would ooze out of the heavyweights at the FBI and elsewhere when it came to software and movie piracy. “You wouldn’t steal a... fill in the blank” is now little more than a punchline in online circles. But at the time, it was the best way to make the case that intellectual property should be considered real property and that virtual locks should be considered real locks. Maxfield literally compared himself to the Lone Ranger.

“With a computer, hackers can carry out their wildest fantasies,” Maxfield said in the late 1980s according to Franklin’s book. “And there is no one supervising them. It’s the alternative to a street gang. The hacker is a street-corner hood, except today the meeting place is a bulletin board.”

Maxfield became so infamous that the first issue of the legendary 2600 magazine, in January of 1984, dedicated its cover to the October 1983 raids and the outing of Maxfield as an FBI informant.

When Chris was finally busted, the FBI turned his bedroom upside down and took all his computer equipment. But Chris’s mother, who was home at the time, later defended him in an Associated Press article. “He bragged he knew how to do it, but he said he would never harm anything if he got in,” she said in 1983. “He would just look and leave. It was just the thrill of getting in.”

The FBI had two problems. One was that they were losing the public relations battle in the press. There are extensive notes in the FBI file about the fact that they’d have to tread lightly, since they were dealing with so many juveniles. The second problem was that there weren’t really any computer hacking laws. “Breaking into” a computer system wasn’t illegal, unless you took a broad interpretation of wire fraud law, as the FBI did with Bill. But since Chris was just 14, they struggled with whether to charge him.

The LA Times ran stories with headlines like “FBI Won’t Go Lightly on Whiz Kids,” but ultimately the agency did go easy on group members who were under 18. It was a calculated move, and one that would pay off, since so many Americans had no idea what hacking was. The idea that the FBI was picking on innocent, curious kids gained traction in communities like Irvine, California, where four of the hackers had their computers confiscated.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet
Four group members at a press conference on October 13, 1983 after getting raided. From left: Wayne Correia (17), Gary Knutson (15), Gregg Knutson (14), and David Hill (17)
The local Irvine newspapers questioned heavy-handed FBI tactics, as kids held press conferences insisting that they didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, they pointed their fingers at Bill Landreth, The Cracker, for getting them involved. Bill’s physical isolation from the other hackers—like the four who knew each other in Irvine (two were brothers)—made him a mysterious figure in the press. Unlike the kids from higher income families, Bill had avoided the attention of newspapers.

The FBI never charged Chris with anything. He went back to school and relished in his new celebrity. “I got a lot of newspaper clippings, and then I became very popular and then I got a lot of girlfriends, and it was all good,” Chris says, laughing.

By the end of October 1983, the same month as the raids, the FBI was asking Congress for stronger anti-hacking laws. Or, rather, hacking laws at all. But to do that, the agency acknowledged that they’d have to redefine the legal meanings of both “property” and “trespassing.”

“Right now there is a void in the law,” FBI Deputy Assistant Director Floyd Clarke testified. “Our experience indicates that certain legal issues involving computer-related crime could be clarified, particularly the definition of property in the sense of a computer program having its own clearly defined inherent value, and the issue of trespass.”

The FBI would get their laws—and the teen cowboys of the Wild West would simply continue chasing sunsets. The first computer hacking law, the Counterfeit Access Device and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (US Public Law 98-473, 1984), was enacted in 1984. But the laws would only grasp at the low-hanging fruit. Richard C. Hollinger’s 1990 paper “Hackers: Computer Heroes or Electronic Highwaymen?” argued that the laws only addressed the least disruptive elements in hacker society:

Currently we are in the midst of a paradox. The computer criminals doing the least harm and who are generally the least involved in malicious activities, “hackers,” have become almost the exclusive prosecutorial focus of computer crime law enforcement.
Bill and Chris were in the “least harm” category; they hadn’t stolen anything but time, if that can be considered a crime. The true computer thieves were those inside a given organization. A 1984 study by the American Bar Association, cited by Hollinger, found that 77 percent of computer crime was committed by a company’s own employees.

Essentially every computer hacking law passed since 1984 is a cousin of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And the original Act itself is still being used (sometimes ham-handedly) by law enforcement today. It’s the law that internet activist Aaron Swartz was charged under after he downloaded a massive cache of academic papers. Swartz faced fines of $1 million and 35 years in prison. He took his own life in January of 2013 before the case was heard.

People get six-figure salaries to find vulnerabilities in networks today.
When I went to Santa Monica to meet Bill, I was pretty sure I’d hear a story about how the FBI had ruined his life. But I left believing that it hadn’t. The world ruined Bill’s life—a world that couldn’t quite find a place for his particular talents, faults, and petty mistakes. While it’s a cliche, it’s hard not to think that perhaps Bill was ahead of his time in many ways. He was smart enough to see vulnerabilities no one else could in what would become the modern internet. Legislation was drafted because few people in law enforcement had even thought what The Inner Circle did was possible, and digital security is now more important than ever. People get six-figure salaries to find vulnerabilities in networks today. But being just four years older than Chris meant Bill was tried as an adult and saw his life set on another course.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet
Bill Landreth in Santa Monica on March 18, 2016 (Photo by Matt Novak)
In Los Angeles it’s not uncommon to walk by familiar faces, briefly famous but now forgotten. Nobody does a double take when they see Bill. Instead, given that he’s one of the roughly 40,000 people sleeping on LA’s streets on any given night, people tend to avert their eyes from his gaze.

I thank Bill for sharing his story with me, and I leave him in Santa Monica. The world seems content to punish him for the victimless crimes he committed over three decades ago. But that’s certainly not unique to Bill or computer hackers. Who knows how his life would’ve turned out if he’d been embraced by the FBI, rather than prosecuted?

I asked Bill what was in his future. He says he’s thinking about writing something—maybe a book or a screenplay. But mostly he just isn’t sure. “I’ll probably end up not getting that far along,” Bill tells me with a nervous chuckle before we part ways. “I’d like to buy a house. But I don’t know.”

Source: paleofuture.gizmodo.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 13th Apr 2016

Google has announced the beneficiaries of a $20 million grant (£14 million) for organisations building tech for people with disabilities.

The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities received submissions from 1,000 different companies, and the prize pot has been split between 30 winners — tackling everything from smart glasses for blind people to mapping technology for people in wheelchairs and treatment for clubfoot.

The challenge was organised by Google.org, the charitable arm of Californian search giant Google. Launched in May 2015, it aimed to "seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions to some serious 'what ifs' for the disabled community," Google.org director Jacquelline Fuller wrote at the time. "We will choose the best of these ideas and help them to scale by investing in their vision, by rallying our people and by mobilizing our resources in support of their missions."

The winners range from British blindness charities to projects to help leprosy suffers, with two hailing from the UK — Motivation UK, and Wayfindr. Motivation is 3D printing "postural support devices" for wheelchair users to ensure they fit properly, and improve their health; it has been given a £573,737 grant. Wayfindr, with the Royal Society for the Blind, is building tech that can help blind people navigate independently by providing narrated directions. It got $1 million (£700,000.)

"The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities set out to accelerate the use of technology to create meaningful change in the lives of the one billion people in the world with a disability," project lead Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink wrote in a blog post announcing the winners. "We’re eager to watch as all of the fund’s grantees, selected from over 1,000 submissions from around the world, build new solutions that will transform lives and make the world more accessible for all."

e-NABLE is a global team of volunteers that 3D prints prosthetic hands for children; it was given $600,000 (£420,000).

Leprosy Mission Trust India was given $350,000 (£245,000) to go towards 3D printing customisable footwear for people who have been affected by leprosy to allow them to keep walking. DAISY Consortium is working on digital publishing industry standards to ensure new publications are compatible with accessibility tools used by disabled people. Wheelmap is creating a database of wheelchair-accessible locations to help people who rely on wheelchairs get around; it was granted €825,000 (£660,000). World Wide Hearing is building a cheap diagnostic tool to screen people for potential hearing loss.

The Royal National Institute for Blind People is building smart glasses to help people with low vision.

You can see all 30 winners over on the Challenge's official website »

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 12th Apr 2016

DON'T ever shutdown your PC? There's plenty of reasons why that's a bad idea.

Closing the lid on your laptop without hitting the off button could be causing you a host of issues.

Although it's faster and easier to simply send your PC to sleep, not turning it off can lead to infuriatingly slow performance and problems with your Wi-Fi.

This is because over time, your operating system, apps and programmes begin to accumulate some leftover digital mess.

These include temporary files, disk caches, page files, open file descriptors, zombie processes, and more.

And there's another common problem as applications you thought you'd quit weeks ago can end up hogging valuable space in your memory.

This can then cause rival apps to run significantly slower than usual.

If that wasn't reason enough to hit the off button there's also another issue.

If you have any driver crashes or software hiccups, you can experience problems with your Wi-Fi connectivity, too.

Putting your laptop or desktop machine to sleep or enabling hibernate mode will not solve the issue.

That's because sleep mode still sips enough power to keep the computer’s state in memory.

Other parts of the computer are shutdown to save battery, but the disk caches, zombie processes, memory leaks, and more, will remain intact.

Windows' hibernate mode is a similar affair.

This mode saves its current state to your hard drive – dumping the contents of its RAM into a file on its hard drive.

Your PC will use about the same amount of power as one that's shutdown, but the same troublesome processes are saved.

Fortunately, shutting down your computer every once in a while can give your machine a fresh start.

SuperUser technology blog contributor David Zaslavsky claims: "Different computers and OS’s are not all equally affected by this phenomenon.

"Generally, a computer with a lot of RAM can go for much longer than a computer with only a little RAM. A server, on which you just start up a few programs and then let them work, will be fine for much longer than a desktop computer, where you’re constantly opening and closing different programs and doing different things with them.

"Plus, server operating systems are optimised for long-term use.

"It’s also been said that Linux and Mac OS tend to run for longer than Windows systems, although in my experience that mostly depends on what programs you use on them, and not so much on any differences between the kernels of the operating systems themselves."

If you notice that your computer is slogging through some simple tasks – and you find yourself struggling to remember the last time you shutdown your PC – it might be time to reboot.

Source: dailystar.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 12th Apr 2016

Petya ransomware victims can now unlock infected computers without paying.

An unidentified programmer has produced a tool that exploits shortfalls in the way the malware encrypts a file that allows Windows to start up.

In notes put on code-sharing site Github, he said he had produced the key generator to help his father-in-law unlock his Petya-encrypted computer.

The malware, which started circulating in large numbers in March, demands a ransom of 0.9 bitcoins (£265).
It hid itself in documents attached to emails purporting to come from people looking for work.

Scrambling schemes
Security researcher Lawrence Abrams, from the Bleeping Computer news site, said the key generator could unlock a Petya-encrypted computer in seven seconds.

But the key generator requires victims to extract some information from specific memory locations on the infected drive.
And Mr Abrams said: "Unfortunately, for many victims extracting this data is not an easy task."

This would probably involve removing the drive and then connecting it up to another virus-free computer running Windows, he said.

Another tool can then extract the data, which can be used on the website set up to help people unlock their computer.
Independent security analyst Graham Cluley said there had been other occasions when ransomware makers had "bungled" their encryption system.

Cryptolocker, Linux.encoder and one other ransomware variant were all rendered harmless when their scrambling schemes were reverse-engineered.

"Of course," said Mr Cluley, "the best thing is to have safety secured backups rather than relying upon ransomware criminals goofing up."

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

If you live in a particularly tall or wide house, or one with a complicated layout, then you might have problems with Wi-Fi dead zones where your high-speed wireless broadband connection just can’t reach. That can seriously hamper your Netflix binge-watching or Spotify streaming. You don’t have to settle for patchy coverage though, and there are several ways in which you can extend the reach of your Wi-Fi.

Upgrade your router

Your available options here are going to depend on ISP you’ve signed up with to provide your internet and the hardware setup that’s currently in place. Some companies are more picky about customers installing their own hardware than others. Your best bet is to check with the ISP or browse through a related support forum to check, and what you can do will depend on where in the world you live too.

Comcast, for example, provides a list of hardware its services can work with that you can use as a reference guide. If you’ve been on the same router for a while, your ISP might send you an upgrade free of charge. After all, if you’re paying for a particular speed, then it’s their responsibility to provide you with the equipment that gives you the best chance of getting it.

How to Get a Strong Wi-Fi Signal in Every Room of Your House
It’s possible to really go to town if you don’t have anything better to spend your money on (and what’s more important than internet access?)—something like the D-Link AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Router will set you back around $250 or so, but you don’t necessarily have to break the bank. Check the specifications of your current equipment and see how much difference an upgrade is going to make.

Replacing the antennas on your router is another option, though many of the new models from the last couple of years now use internal antennas and don’t have the necessary sockets to add your own. If you do have a compatible model or you buy a router with external sockets—check the supplied documentation with your hardware for details—then you can boost the wireless signal or change its direction.

Reposition your router

It may sound obvious, but moving your router is one of the most effective ways of improving the signal you can get around the home. Remember that most routers beam signal in all directions at once, so ideally you want your device floating somewhere in the middle of your property. If that’s not practically feasible, just get it as close as you possibly can.

Today’s hardware devices do a good job of beaming out Wi-Fi signals, but they’re not perfect. Walls, floor, furniture, mirrors and metal objects all have a detrimental effect on the signal, so make some adjustments to the internal layout of your home if required. The newer your laptops, tablets and smartphones, the better able they will be to work with Wi-Fi at faster speeds over longer distances.

Baby monitors, cordless phones and microwaves can cause interference too, and changing the channel used by your router can reduce this (delve into your router’s help documentation if you’re unsure about how to do this). Many routers offer a choice of using 5GHz or 2.4GHz radio bands; the former has more channels, so less chance of interference, but the signal range doesn’t stretch as far.

It’s worth recommending a firmware update too. If newer software is available for your router model, then it can make a significant difference to the capabilities of the hardware. Check with the router manufacturer or your Internet Service Provider to see if there are patches available—on most models, applying the update is only going to take a few clicks.

Share Wi-Fi with the neighbours

How well do you know the people living around you? Are they older residents likely to do the odd spot of web browsing and email checking? Or younger folk who probably love nothing better than getting multiple torrent files downloaded simultaneously? Depending on the answers to those questions, you might find in practical to share an internet connection with those who are living around you.

If you’re in terraced housing or apartments, for example, you can have your router on the ground floor and your neighbor’s higher up. Of course there’s an element of trust here—it’s only going to work if you know the people next door well and they’ve signed up for a suitably fast connection speed—but you might consider giving away some of your bandwidth a small price to pay to get web access in the top room in the house.

How to Get a Strong Wi-Fi Signal in Every Room of Your House

Think of it as having one large family split across two buildings with two routers to utilize and position them accordingly. If you both have speedy enough connection packages then bottlenecks should be rare, and by swapping passwords with each other you can double the chances of getting online at no extra cost.

Even if you are best buds with the people living next door, you probably don’t want them sniffing around your files; make sure you keep control over what they can access on your home network once they have access to your router. The network settings on your computer will let you restrict what you share with other people, but this is perhaps not something to try if you suspect there’s a teen hacker living next door.

Invest in an extender or two

There are two main approaches here: Extenders that simply repeat the original signal over a further distance (usually losing a lot of speed along the way) or powerline devices that use your home’s electrical wiring system to do the job of transferring bytes to and from your router. Of the two options, powerline networking is definitely the way to go if you can.

For those of you who absolutely must take the repeater approach, all kinds of kit is available to fit your requirements and budget, and you can even repurpose an old router together with some open source software to do the same job if you want to. After a short setup wizard you’ll be ready to go, and you can use the same positioning tips that we mentioned earlier to minimize interference from other devices.

There are also plenty of hardware options to choose from when it comes to Powerline networking. Some plugs provide a wired connection in the room of your choice, while others can create a Wi-Fi hotspot too; you’re going to need to do some research based on the setup you’ve got at home and what you want to be able to do with it. Getting everything up and running is usually very straightforward, and the configuration utilities you’re going to need will be included in the starter kit you buy. Linking two powerline plugs together is typically just a case of pressing two buttons, one on each device, to pair them.

For simple web browsing, a repeater should be fine; if you’re streaming HD video and so on then you’re probably going to want to get hold of some powerline kit. As is normally the case, paying extra for decent quality equipment is going to be worth it in the long term, so stick to well-reviewed kit from the better-known manufacturers.

Source: fieldguide.gizmodo.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

The FBI says an email scam in which criminals impersonate a company's CEO and ask for a money transfer has seen a "dramatic increase," The Register reports.

Here's how it works: A company receives an email that looks as if it came from the CEO. The email typically instructs someone who manages the company's money to send a payment to a certain bank account or provide login information to the company's payroll system.

But the email isn't genuine, and it often comes from a fraudulent domain that looks very similar to the legitimate company website. The bank account the money is sent to isn't a legitimate customer; it's an account owned by scammers. Fraudsters have also made away with payroll information about hundreds of employees using this technique.

The FBI has published a security alert warning businesses in the US about the email scam. It says police officials around the world have heard of the scam, and it has been reported in 79 countries. The alert says that from October 2013 to February, the FBI was made aware of $2.3 billion (£1.6 billion) in money lost because of the email scam.

The real cost of the scam is likely to be higher, though, as it's unlikely that every payment was noticed or reported.

Some big tech companies have been targeted as part of this scam. Snapchat acknowledged in February that one of its employees had accidentally revealed payroll information after being tricked by an email claiming to have been sent by CEO Evan Spiegel. The data-storage company Seagate fell victim to the scam in March. Fast Company's publisher, Mansueto Ventures, was tricked into handing over data as well.

The email scam isn't limited to the US. Business Insider reported in August that about 10 well-funded London startups had received emails impersonating CEOs

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

John Lewis is to unveil a smart home section at its Oxford Street store in London as consumer interest in Internet of Things (IoT) products grows.

The 1,000 square foot space opens today and aims to "demystify the concept of the smarthome", according to IT director Paul Coby.

"We know there is a lot of noise around the IoT. Techies talk about connected things and devices, while other people talk about the smart home, and what we want to do is inform customers of what smart technology can provide," Coby told V3.

John Lewis said that the move came in response to an 81 per cent increase in sales of smart home products in the past year. The retailer felt that it needed to showcase some of these products in a suitable department so that consumerscan find out more about the products before buying them.

"What we're going to do in Oxford Street is to bring to life how these devices work," said Coby.

The department is divided into four zones: kitchen, entertainment, sleep and home monitoring.

Products on show include the Samsung Family Hub Smart Fridge. The device has a touch screen that brightens up as you approach, and allows owners to shop over the internet from the fridge. Cameras inside the door relay the contents of the fridge to a smartphone app so that the user can see whether they need to buy milk, for example.

The department will also show off the S+ by ResMed, a non-contact sleep tracking system that supposedly analyses and improves quality of sleep. Other products include an oven that lets users put dinner on before they leave the office, a Nest smoke and carbon monoxide alarm and a Netatmo welcome home camera with face recognition.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

Good news on broadband - the UK has hit the target of making a superfast connection available to 90% of homes, as promised back in 2010. But the bad news is that the world has moved on since then, and this achievement won't have anyone cracking open the champagne.

The target was set in 2010 in the early months of the coalition government and came with a pledge that the UK would have "the best superfast broadband in Europe" by 2015. Both aims were later modified as the process of handing over subsidies to BT for rolling out fibre connections in rural areas took longer than expected - 90% by 2015 turned into 95% by 2017 and "best in Europe" turned out to involve a scorecard comparing us on various measures with the larger European countries.

But now Thinkbroadband - which uses a range of data including speed tests to work out coverage - says the 90% target has been hit just a little later than originally planned and we are well on the way to the 95% coverage promised for next year.

There are however two problems. First, the 10% of householders who are still waiting for a decent connection are getting ever more frustrated - just ask any MP with a rural constituency what's in his postbag. Then there is the issue of what constitutes superfast broadband.

Thinkbroadband and Ofcom both go with something above 24Mbps which looked quite fast back in 2010. Those kinds of speeds can be achieved pretty easily via the kind of fibre to the cabinet rollout which has been BT's preferred method. And when you look at how the UK compares with other big European countries, then this level of "superfast" broadband availability does mean we top the league, according to Ofcom.

But broadband campaigners - who are prone to call the current strategy "superfarce" - say this strategy means the UK is in danger of being saddled with a network that just isn't fit for the high-speed future. They advocate the more expensive option of much faster fibre to the home (FTTH) connections and point out that other European countries are far ahead in this.

Indeed, the Thinkbroadband figures show that FTTH is still only available to 1.56% of British homes, whereas on the continent it's becoming the standard option in many countries. Mind you, for the downside to this different strategy just look at the figures for Hull. It's got one of the lowest levels of superfast broadband availability, just 37.6%. But it also scores highest for fibre to the home - again the rate is 37.6%.

That is because Hull's independent telecoms supplier KCOM - formerly Kingston Communications - has opted for what you might call a "continental" approach, building a network which puts a fast-fibre connection in every home. That is taking longer to roll out than BT's fibre to the cabinet, leaving many residents impatient, though in the end they will have something much faster than is available in many other UK cities.

The government may look at today's figures and think that, for a relatively modest outlay from taxpayers, the UK is on track to deliver pretty good broadband to pretty well everyone. But for the fast fibre campaigners "pretty good" is not good enough and they will continue to demand more.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

Flight mode can stop radio interruptions
Pilots can suffer annoying headset sounds
One texter actually stopped comms


Doing something because you're told to, without an explanation, can be annoying can't it? That's why we've often put our phones in flight mode on a plane with reticence. But now we know why it's worth doing.

According to a report by the Mail Online, mobile phones can affect the plane's comms. But don't worry, leaving your phone on isn't going to endanger anyone as it won't affect the plane's flight systems themselves.

The worst thing a connected smartphone can do is create annoying feedback in the headsets of the pilots. You know that noise speakers can sometimes make when you hold a phone near to them? That's what a pilot's communications radio can kick out if phones are left on.

So leaving your phone on during a flight might not cause anyone harm but it certainly is annoying. That "dat-dat-dat-dat" noise in your ear is distracting and the last person you want to distract or annoy, when taking off or landing, is your pilot.

One passenger, texting, did interrupt a radio call from traffic control - which could have potentially been dangerous.

That said, pilots have said that in about 50 flights they've only heard the interference once or twice. That could be thanks to dutiful passengers or simply that the odd phone left on doesn't cause that much interference.

Now you're informed you can choose to turn your phone off in-flight, knowing you're at least trying to save someone at work a great deal of annoyance and hassle.

Source: pocket-lint.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 11th Apr 2016

Say what you like about the recent spate of leaks, none have led to people having their testicles ritually crushed.

Nor, as far as we know, has anyone been locked in a temple until they starved to death. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are not universally popular, but even their most severe critics have not suggested that their actions provoked a military revolt, or caused politicians to be hauled from their debating chamber and strangled en masse. But all these horrors have taken place during the long and often violent history of leaking, with those exposed by leaks as well their perpetrators at times coming to a sticky end.

Take that fatal enforced malnourishment in a temple, for example. This happened in Sparta around 470BC as a directly result of leaked information.

The leading general and one-time regent, Pausanias, sent one of his slaves with a message to the Persian King. Sensing that something was fishy about this, the slave, Argilios, opened the letter and found that Pausanias was offering to support the Persians if they invaded Greece. More than that, the general suggested that the Persians ought to kill the messenger delivering the letter, just to be sure of secrecy.

Understandably aggrieved at the one-way nature of his errand, Argilios decided to leak the letter to the Spartan authorities. Persia was the mortal enemy of Greece, so the general's actions were seen as nothing less than treachery - and so it was that he was bricked up in the Temple of Athena without any food by way of punishment. Records suggest that his own mother joined the angry citizens who made sure he could not escape.

Ancient Greek politics was a relatively open affair, but Roman civilisation by contrast was positively ridden with plotting and intrigue in its later years, and a fair amount of leaking, according to the historian Tom Holland.
"There was an intense form of political combat, absolutely on the scale of ours today," he says. "You see leaks being used by would-be favourites to destroy their rivals."

Perhaps the most famous leak of Roman times was the pile of documents which appeared on the doorstep of Cicero, Consul of the Roman Senate and a leading philosopher and orator of his time.

In 63BC, Cicero had become convinced that a senator called Catiline was plotting a coup, but was unable to prove it. What he found at his door was a collection of letters from allies of Catiline, outlining details of the plot. No-one ever discovered who had passed on this crucial evidence, but flourishing these letters on the floor of the Senate, Cicero was able to convince his colleagues once and for all that the Roman Republic was under threat. It was perhaps as a reward for his dedicated sleuthing, that Cicero was allowed to supervise personally the immediate execution by strangling of all the plotters.

It was Osman who suffered the fate of having his testicles crushed before being put to death

The Roman Empire endured for centuries, its eastern wing surviving as Byzantium right up until 1453 when it fell prey to the Ottomans. Theirs was a civilisation renowned for its tolerance - a multi-nation, multi-ethnic empire with a high degree of what might today be described as social mobility. Even a slave or a eunuch could rise up the hierarchy.

Yet, according to the writer Jason Goodwin, there was one area in which the Ottomans were famously severe. An expert on Ottoman affairs, Goodwin says they were obsessed with preserving secrecy. Many sultans employed deaf mutes around the court, he explains, so that they could not overhear, let alone propagate any information they might pick up.

Sultan Osman the Second had more reason than most to fear leaks. He had decided to crack down on the elite military unit known as Janissaries, who he feared were becoming too powerful. Somehow though, this information did leak out - his own Vizier was later fingered as the source.

Osman II
When the Janissaries were informed, they stormed Istanbul's Topkapi palace, and it was Osman who suffered the fate of having his testicles crushed before being put to death.
Just as the Ottoman Empire was going into decline, the advent of the modern newspaper in the 19th Century was giving new breath to the fine art of leaking. Now there was the opportunity for leaked information to reach a vast audience, rather than being restricted to those directly affected.

John Nugent of the New York Herald is credited with one of the first great scoops that came from a leak. In 1848, he was handed secret details of a treaty to end the war between the US and Mexico.

American army general Zachary Taylor (1784 - 1850), directing his troops at the Battle of Buena Vista in Northern Mexico during the Mexican-American war.Image copyrightGetty Images

His decision to publish led to threats of imprisonment from outraged senators, who held him captive for almost a month. It might well have been worth it though, as Nugent was later promoted to the paper's editorship.

Earlier great leaks like the Pentagon Papers had to be photocopied by hand, page after page

Nugent set a precedent that persists to this day, according to Paul Lashmar, a lecturer in journalism at Sussex University, and a one-time investigative reporter himself. Reporters who get hold of leaks tend to be rewarded, he says, either with promotion, a pay rise or at least with extra professional kudos - even if they do sometimes face threats of imprisonment or worse along the way.
"We would spend long hours in pubs cultivating sources," Lashmar says, rather wistfully. "It could be a police officer, a civil servant, or someone in the accounts department of a company… they passed an envelope over to you and that was great."
The advent of surveillance technology has made this kind of leak much rarer, Lashmar believes. Anyone with a mobile phone can have their movements traced, or they might be picked up on CCTV cameras. He has found public servants, in particular, far more wary of meeting journalists lest they be punished for their indiscretion.

What has replaced the old-style brown envelope is the mass leak, the kind of vast treasure trove of data seen in the release of the Panama Papers, with millions of documents passed on in one go. It is new technology that has made this possible, of course.

Earlier great leaks like the Pentagon Papers, which revealed secrets about US operations in Vietnam, had to be photocopied by hand, page after page. Now the entire records of a company or government department can be loaded on to a memory stick with just one click of a mouse.

The campaigning journalist, Heather Brooke, has handled plenty of leaks in her time, and believes this new kind of mass digital leak is here to stay.

"It's very difficult to defend digital information, very easy to attack it," she says.

Brooke argues that those who store digital information have themselves to blame if they find it ends up in the public domain.

"We are in a time when everyone wants to keep every piece of data they can and keep it forever. They are creating a honeypot for hackers, for disgruntled employees, and for people who want to leak."

We have come a long way from the days when a slave messenger could cause havoc in Sparta just by opening a letter. Yet the same asymmetry remains, indeed it is perhaps accentuated. Information is power, and in this early part of the 21st Century, information is also ubiquitous. From the US Army Private Chelsea Manning, to the intelligence contract worker, Edward Snowden, we have seen relatively low-ranking figures get their hands on information and then expose it, leaving those at the top deeply compromised.

Now, more than ever, it seems, the leak is mightier than the sword.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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