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Tech News Digest: An AI controlled Political Party and lab-grown Brain Cells that play Video Games

By Daniel Haltmeier

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the twelfth bi-weekly Tech News Digest, provided by the GISA Technology and Security Initiative (TechSec). Our goal here is to give you an easy-to-read update on what has been happening lately in the world of technology and security. To do so, we pick the top news stories from the last two weeks and present a short summary. Should you be interested in knowing more, just follow the links below the respective paragraphs.

Some Good News: You’re Safer than Ever from Phishing (if you’re a Windows User)

Our Tech News Digests and posts about Tech News Top Stories have a tendency to highlight bad news or straight up disasters in technology. So we thought that we would start with some good news for a change. 

The latest Windows 11 update has a new feature that improves your protection from phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are a type of hack where the malicious actor doesn’t try to force his way into your accounts, but tries to trick you into giving him your usernames and passwords with different social engineering tricks. The most common vector for such attacks is email, but many others are also used frequently, including social media or faked websites that look like the original.

Your best defense against phishing is your own brain. Think before you give away any of your digital credentials. Second-Year students might have learned this the hard way during the phishing test at the Institute last semester 😉 However, a second important factor in protecting against phishing is updating your software, which often recognizes previously used and flagged phishing strategies. This is where the new Windows 11 version comes in.

Version 22H2 for Windows 11 now checks (in the background) whether services where you enter your credentials have a secure connection to a trusted destination server. If this is not the case, you will automatically have a warning pop up on your screen. The system now also warns you when you use the same password for too many different services. 

Therefore, the good news is that Windows users are more secure than ever from phishing attacks. Unfortunately, the MAC users will not be able to benefit from this new feature (for now). But then again – and the author here is (obviously) a Windows user – it might just be your own fault for choosing Apple…

Read more about this on WIRED

Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal is Back on Track

Elon Musk has made an absolute U-Turn after breaking off the deal to buy Twitter, and is now saying he will buy the company for the originally agreed upon price anyways. Apparently, he is now in favor of the deal because he has decided he wants to create “X – The Everything App”. After his original offer to buy the company, then trying to pull out of the deal and going to court, this is yet another turn in this never ending story. Honestly, I stopped trying to understand that man a long time ago. There is impulsive and incomprehensible decision making and then there is Elon Musk – on a whole different level.

The turn of events comes shortly after the release of a number of Musk’s personal text messages about the deal with a few Silicon Valley insiders and billionaires who all tried to weigh in on the deal. The re-opening of the deal also came only a few days before Musk showed the world – on Twitter – why his take-over of the social media platform might be problematic. In a series of tweets, he sided with Russia in favor of the annexation of Ukrainian territory and with China in its conflict with Taiwan. The only question I ask myself now is this: Do I really want Twitter to be controlled by a man whose rationality I have come to question a long time ago?

Read more about this on CNN and THE WASHINGTON POST.

Denmark’s Artificial Intelligence Political Party

The Danes might have the opportunity to elect a party in its general election in November that is controlled by an AI. The “Synthetic Party” is a political party whose policies derive from AI, and its public face is Lars – an AI-enabled chatbot. The AI has been programmed and trained on the policies of Danish fringe parties since the 1970s and attempts to represent the 20% of Danes who usually do not vote in the elections. While Lars the chatbot will not be allowed to figure on the ballot, the human members of the Synthetic Party are committed to carrying out the AI-derived policies. 

The party was founded by the artist collective “Computer Lars” and the non-profit art and tech organization “MindFuture Foundation”. Their goal was to represent the data of all fringe parties who have no seat in Parliament, combining their various platforms into a single stronger one with more resources than the individual fringe parties have at their disposal.

Of course, the Synthetic Party’s real objective is not gaining political power. It rather wants to raise awareness about how we humans need to learn to live with AIs. Thus, they would like to propose a new (18th) SDG to the United Nations SDGs called “Life With Artificials”, working towards a world where everyone knows how to work with machines. 

Do you want to talk to Leader Lars – the Chatbot? You can contact him on Discord and he does understand English. Unfortunately, he will answer only in Danish. What a patriot. 

Read more about this on VICE.

Lab-grown Brain Cells Play Video Game

Okay, this might be less of a tech story and more of a biological miracle, but Australian and UK researchers have developed lab-grown brain cells that were able to play a 1970s video game. Am I the only one freaking out right now? They started with nothing else than a dish and created something that is sufficiently sentient to respond to its environment. Also, how cool is it that their first experiment was a video game?

The researchers grew a total of 800’000 human (and some mouse) brain cells and connected this mini-brain directly to the video game via electrodes. It took the mini-brain a total of five minutes to learn how to play the 1970s game. Although it often lost to the computer, the success rate was well above random chance. 

It is still important to stress that the mini-brain did (probably) not understand what it was playing, as it still lacked consciousness. Other researchers have thus also said that calling the mini-brain “sentient” goes a bit too far. It is nevertheless an important step in the right direction and could one day help cure Alzheimers. My mom – who always told me that video games were good for nothing – has finally been proven wrong… 

Read more about this on BBC.

Poisoned Tor Browser tracks Chinese users

You might already know this story if you follow us on social media or are one of our initiative members because this was last week’s tech news top story. A maliciously modified version of the Tor Browser has been circulating and collecting data such as browsing history, names and locations from Chinese users. The Tor Browser usually serves the purposes of hiding precisely this sensitive data from governments and other actors. It is for this reason that the browser is so popular in authoritarian states with restricted internet access. The Tor Browser, in its unmodified version, is the door to open and free information.

This modified and malicious version of the browser was detected by the cybersecurity company Kaspersky in March this year, but the browser itself might have been circulating since January. The browser includes a spyware library which can relate relevant information to the malicious actor’s server, but it can also execute shell commands on the victim’s machine. 

Given that the poisoned browser was directed at Chinese users and the IP addresses of the attacker’s servers to store stolen data are also Chinese, it is reasonable to suspect that the Chinese government or a CCP-close hacker collective is behind the attack. This is not the first time poisoned Tor versions have been circulated. It is also unlikely that it will be the last time…

Read more about this on CYBERSCOOP.If you would like to hear more tech news, participate in events related to technology and security or learn practical technology skills, consider following us on Instagram, LinkedIn or join our Initiative as a member! We are currently also looking for new board members!

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