This week: a Halloween special with beer corpses, zombie bots and connected birds. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
The stories this week
Other stories we bring up
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Intro This is The Future, This week on Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter and I'm Kai Riemer. And every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business, the weird and the wonderful and things that changed the world. Okay, let's stop. Let's start!
Kai Today on The Future, This Week: beer corpses, zombie bots and connected birds.
Sandra I'm Sandra Peter. I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai I'm Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School and leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group. Hi, Sandra.
Sandra Hi Kai.
Kai What happened in the future this week?
Sandra Halloween. Since it's Halloween, we decided to do a whole episode on what scares us this week.
Kai Well, I can tell you superannuation scares me a little, but we've done this last time with Susan Thorp.
Sandra Bias in AI scares me.
Kai We've done that, we had Cathy O'Neill. Climate change, that scares me.
Sandra Climate change always scares me. But since this Halloween this week, we should have a Halloween-themed scare. So I think zombies.
Kai Yeah. And that's a bit more cheerful because, you know, zombies are cheerful.
Sandra So let's start with beer corpses.
Kai Bierleichen, as we call them in Germany. And that's one that is really scary, because it's zombies and it is climate change.
Sandra And beer.
Kai And beer, and wine and methane. Now, this is a really strange story and it's in The Guardian and it is titled "Oktoberfest...". You know, the one in Munich, Germany, "Oktoberfest produces 10 times as much methane as Boston". I don't know why they picked Boston, but probably to contextualise it for our listeners in the US. But apparently the Oktoberfest is a really big emitter of methane, which is quite a bad gas for driving climate change.
Sandra Bad gas is indeed one of the culprits. About 10 percent of the emissions were attributed to flatulence and burps of attendees.
Kai Yeah, but 90 percent are not. So it's not all related to, you know, the by-product of lots of eating and drinking.
Sandra So let's just make it clear. Oktoberfest is a celebration of beer and music and...
Kai Yeah, pretty much. So here's one scary bit. There's six million people that come to the Oktoberfest and, you know, they attribute to climate change because they come from 50 different countries. So you can add that to the bill, but they drink seven million litres of beer, 100000 litres of wine. They eat half a million chickens and a quarter of a million sausages. So that's a lot of flatulence and burping right there.
Sandra But also a lot of methane emissions due to gas grills and heating appliances, and all sorts of other appliances use to prepare the chickens and the sausages and everything that goes with them. So why is this scary other than the beer corpses that the event produces?
Kai It points to the fact that the way in which we account for contributors to climate change is fairly patchy and crude. So the researchers basically say that things like the Oktoberfest, large scale festivals that attracts many, many people will have to be added as a significant contributor to the climate bill of a region or a country when it comes to calculating whether a country, for example, meets the targets of the climate agreement.
Sandra So the study that we'll include in the show notes that was published in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Journal concluded that the release of gases of these sort of major festivals are actually high enough to be considered greenhouse gas sources in emissions inventories. And because all of the decisions we make about emissions are based on data, this would have to be accounted for all over the world, not just for Oktoberfest.
Kai Yeah. And the scary bit is, of course, not just the beer corpses, but also the fact that light-hearted spectacles and festivals like the Oktoberfest are now in the bad books as well, which is a little bit sad. But continuing on from our beer corpses/zombies theme. We want to talk about zombie robots. So robots that are being hacked to be controlled by malicious people to do things that their owners didn't want their little cute home robots to do.
Sandra So we finally found scary robots. So this story comes from VICE, it's titled: "High-Tech Japanese Hotel Finds Out Its Service Robots Are Easily Hackable".
Kai So a security researcher who is with a group called Hash found out that in the Japanese Henn Na hotel chain, which prides itself to have these little cute assistance robots in their rooms, can easily be hacked by someone who knows roughly what they are doing. It's not too hard, he explained, by way of installing on the robots so-called unsigned apps that can then provide access to the microphone, or the cameras of these robots that are in these guest rooms to be used for spying on the guests activities, which is quite scary.
Sandra So let's make it clear these little robots have become an attraction. If you go to Tokyo, to any of the fancy high-tech hotels, you'll see one of these really entertaining, interactive, efficient little things that is trying to make your stay a bit more futuristic, but also a bit more fun. But the security of these things is often not something that we first think of. But given that these robots do have a lot of sensors built in them, it's not just that they can become spooky zombies and not do the things that you want them to do, but also they can spy on you. They can collect data. They can collect video, audio or indeed connect to other devices in the room that a malicious hacker might want to do.
Kai So before we look at the bigger picture here, which is security in IoT, which is becoming a real big problem in the IT world, and indeed invades our homes as we take these devices into our houses, let's take a quick look at how this story evolved. So Gizmodo first reported on this and had an interview with security engineer Lance R. Vick, who discovered this problem, and he calls himself an ethical hacker. So what he did is he did the right thing. He notified the hotel chain and also he notified the vendor of the robots, and gave them 90 days to basically do something about the security flaw, to report back to him and all of this. Unfortunately, he heard zilch in those 90 days. And so he decided to go public with this, and this is then how this story came about. But it points to a really bigger problem. And so Lance Vick points out that this is only an example of a problem that is emerging, whereby a lot of connected devices, such as air conditioners, thermostats, smart TV's, intelligent assistance such as Siri and Alexa, can potentially be hacked if their security isn't up to scratch. Security cameras themselves, ironically, can be turned against people. And there's a lot of cases where cheap security cameras that are connected come with very little security features and often very easily-guessable standard passwords that have never been changed. And those pose real risks that can then be used to not only hack into these devices, but also hack into the entire network that these devices are connected to. And while this is creepy, and spooky and very much in line with our Halloween theme when it comes to the personal home, it, of course, poses real challenges when we're talking corporate environments where these devices then allow entry to the corporate network.
Sandra Remember our fish tank story from last year? We spoke about this in one of our episodes, an Ocean's Eleven type heist, where...
Kai Oh, yeah, yeah. Where someone actually broke into a casino virtually via the thermometer in the fish tank.
Sandra In the fish tank, in the lobby of the casino. And this resulted in high-rollers having their personal data exposed. But given that we are talking about the zombies, we have to bring back My Friend Cayla, the children's doll with the golden hair who answers kids questions and is ever so delightful. And turns out it was an illegal espionage apparatus as labelled by Germany's Federal Network Agency.
Kai Yeah, a little doll that you place in your child's cot that had its camera and microphone compromised, and could be used to spy on your children.
Sandra And of course, My Friend Cayla isn't the only doll that's got various types of censors or that are Wi-Fi enabled. Most of the little droids from the Star Wars movies are actual internet-enabled, furry little Furbies are internet-enabled. There's a variety of smartwatches and other toys for kids that can be hacked.
Kai And so the real problem here is that very innocuous consumer products come with Internet connections that when not appropriately secured, and we're talking consumer goods companies here, not IT companies. So we're talking companies whose core competency is not an Internet security. And that is really the problem here, that more and more of these devices venture beyond traditional IT companies, and create real loopholes in home networks and smart home installations in corporate networks. But it's not just those devices., we had a story about cost that can be remotely hacked and remote controlled. Remember the Jeep Cherokees? You own a Jeep Sentra? No. Yep.
Sandra Yeah. I have not sold it after the hack.
Kai Is it still in the garage or has someone driven it out of there remotely?
Sandra I'll check today when I got home.
Kai And then there is also, how do we put this, because this is a professional podcast?
Sandra Adult wearables.
Kai Adult wearables, adult entertainment, toys and products that are internet-enabled, and the emerging class for these devices is teledidonics, apparently, and a, you know, back to Germany. A German 'enthusiast', should we say, has mapped for all of Berlin the existence of non-secured such devices and where they are located in the city, and poses real security and of course, privacy risks.
Sandra One of the more interesting trends that we've actually come across and this is out of the Security Analyst Summit in 2019, and again, security researchers were at Kaspersky Labs Global Research and Analysis Team. The acronym is GReAT.
Kai It should be scary, the acronym, they can do better. Or creepy.
Sandra But they had a great trend to discuss around hacking IoT devices, because the two of us always assume that you would hack these either...
Kai Well basically to spy, or cause chaos in the home just for fun.
Sandra Yeah, but turns out you could actually have them programmed to click on ads and drive ad revenue for hackers. So these can be really low bandwidth, and low-power devices, but they all have a unique IP address. So you could use that to basically fool advertising networks into thinking these are some people clicking on these ads, and then drive revenue for the hackers.
Kai So you monetise people's thermostats and security cameras that are internet-connected. So that's an interesting one. The other one, of course, is extortion, where you block devices that are really important to a corporation. For example, you know, you deactivate the elevator.
Sandra Or the air conditioning.
Kai Well transmit so and so many bitcoins to this address to have your elevators working. Speaking of bitcoin, some devices with computer power can be hijacked by a botnets to then start mining bitcoins or botnets turning these devices into 'zombies', as they're called, can be used to partake in concerted denial-of-service attacks, where you basically create an army of zombies that you then literally use to attack targets such as corporate networks to try and overwhelm them, and therefore deactivate them.
Sandra So how big is this problem, we ask?
Kai So Kaspersky has found that the number of attacks on IoT devices has increased sevenfold from 2018 to 2019, to more than 100 million attacks in 2019. And that makes it a really big problem. For quite a while now, it has been argued that this is coming, in fact, pretty much two years ago, we mentioned the Internet of creepy things and we reported on a few such devices that were emerging as a potential threat. But 2019 seems to be the year when this has turned into a measurable threat.
Sandra So what can we do against these zombie bots?
Kai Well, the most obvious one would be for anyone buying or owning one of these devices to basically change the security settings, or run them through a VPN and things like that. But that's pretty unrealistic because most people who buy these devices, again, they're also not security experts. So another one would be to require certification, or do something about the way in which we build these devices. Or we resort to, again, hacking strategies as we found...
Sandra More like vigilante strategies, so not letting these things take on a life of their own to begin with.
Kai An article in Dark Reading, which is a security website, reported that in 2017, a hacker by the name of Janitor created what's called BrickerBot to counter one of the largest denial-of-service bots called Mirai. And what this guy basically said is that 'if there are unsecured IoT devices that can be taken over and become zombies, I'm going to kill them pre-emptively so that they can't become malicious'. So he created another malware that would just go and delete certain code bits and change the settings on these devices, to pretty much disable them and take them off line. So a strategy that is not necessarily ethical but pre-empts the creation of zombies by, you know, killing the thing beforehand. In a world where it's just children's toys and security cameras, that might be okay. But the article points out that, you know, as more medical devices come online and are connected, this can create real problems, and the hacker has since disabled this technology.
Sandra Yeah, just think about pacemakers, or devices that monitor blood sugar levels for people who might have diabetes.
Kai Yeah. So real threats, real scary. You don't want your pacemaker to participate as a click bot, rather than doing its actual job.
Sandra But zombies can be more than just people and robots.
Kai Animals, apparently. So we found a bunch of Internet of Things related stories that involve animals, connected animals.
Sandra This was a story that we really, really had to mention. It's from The Verge and it concerns eagles that racked up a huge roaming bill, so high actually that the scientists who had put trackers on this birds had to take out a loan to pay for them, and then proceeded to try to raise money via crowdfunding campaign, pretty much because the birds had taken some unexpected detours on their migratory routes.
Kai So this is a research group called the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network, who equipped a number of eagles with these tracking devices and made them send messages to their server, so that they could track them. Now, that would have worked out quite nicely had those birds stuck to the corridors in which they were supposed to travel. But one of the birds called Min decided to go for a little holiday in Iran, where the connection to the mobile network was way more expensive than actually budgeted for by the researchers. And because it was so far off track, it had to send these messages at a higher frequency, which basically bankrupted their research account in the process.
Sandra And speaking of Iran, we have to bring up another story from the National Geographic where Iran actually arrested such animals. In this case, it was 14 squirrels that were equipped with small recording or radio devices.
Kai That, again, were used for research purposes. But the national police identified them as potential spies. And similarly, in 2016, a large griffon vulture was found by locals in Lebanon, which had a tracking device, and that raised fears of spying by Israeli forces. And it was the UN peacekeeping forces that had to intervene and make it clear that this was just part of a research project to repopulate these vultures across the Middle East. So it was a benign tracking device, much like the ones that the Eagles were wearing. And so we thought we'd go all in with the connected zombie animals.
Sandra Yep, another story reported in the National Geographic in 2014. This is when Russia took over Crimea and infiltrated a Ukrainian military unit. They found combat dolphins. These were animals that were used to find underwater mines or trying to block intruders from entering certain areas.
Kai And those dolphins are a real thing. The National Geographic also reports that the US Navy since the 1960s has trained dolphins to participate in military activity, in particular because their senses are so well-equipped for locating such sea mines.
Sandra And we will have to include the picture in the shownotes, the article has a picture of KDog, a bottlenose dolphins that just leaps out of the water and has what appears to be a camera strapped to its fin. Sorry.
Kai And, and while Sandra tries to recover.
Sandra Get over the lizards, vultures, dolphins, squirrels and other animals being accused of spying.
Kai We will leave you with a slightly scary community announcement for science. Yeah, we're a university-based podcast, so here's our scientific bit of the day.
Sandra The startup Auggi, which is a health startup looking into probiotics, is asking you to 'give a shit' for science.
Kai Yep, people, in order to advance the artificial intelligence-based science of shit, take photographs of your...
Kai Contributions, and send them into these startups so that they can train these algorithms to recognise and classify different conditions that present in faeces, as the article in The Next Web explained.
Sandra So changed the future of gut health and this Halloween...
Kai And that is literally all we have time for. People pay attention out there, it is a scary world of connected devices and scary animals, but it's sometimes also a surprisingly kind and interesting world out there.
Sandra Yes. So before we end, a quick shout out to a fan of the podcast, Mohammad from Sudan thank you for the lift last night.
Kai Mohammad and all our fans out there, if you do have stories you want us to discuss, be reminded send them to us, and we're happy to give you a shout out.
Kai See you soon.
Sandra On the Future...
Kai Next week.
Sandra This week?
Kai Yes. But next week.
Sandra On The Future, This Week. Next week. Thanks for listening.
Kai Thanks for listening.
Outro This was The Future, This Week made possible by the Sydney Business Insights team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us, our sound editor Megan Wedge, who makes us sound good, and keeps us honest. Our theme music was composed and played live on a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud or wherever you got your podcasts. You can follow us online on Flipboard, Twitter or sbi.sydney.edu.au. If you have any news that you want us to discuss, please send them to email@example.com.
Sandra Part of a Russian military parade was a couple of seals who had Russian...
Kai We should say actual seals, like the animals.
Sandra Yep, with berets and holding AK 47 rifles and there's one with the flag, and, and bearing flags and, um, I don't know where to go with this.
Kai Say this.
Sandra And among other things. Oh, my God. And in an ultimate display of ah, power, they were 100 percent accurate hitting targets with rifles or knives. Sorry. I can't do this!