The Tech We Had No Idea Would Become So Critical

Mobile phones had only just started to get smart in 2002 as models like the Sony Ericsson P800 (yep, the two companies used to be good buds) introduced one of the earliest full-sized touchscreens with a numeric keypad that conveniently flipped out of the way so users had more room to poke around with a stylus. A mobile data connection on your cellular plan allowed these early smartphones to access a stripped down version of the internet wherever you roamed: which at first was mostly a novel distraction that was occasionally useful enough to justify the added cost.

As smartphone capabilities expanded, so did users’ demands for more reliable and speedier internet on the go. EDGE and 2G mobile data connections eventually led to 3G when using the internet on a mobile device finally felt fast enough to be useful, and a modern 5G connection promises data speeds that rival many home internet services, finally allowing many consumers to say goodbye to a tethered ISP altogether.

Broadband on the go has helped turn our smartphones and other mobile devices into full-fledged media players, navigation devices, online gaming systems, video phones, and even miniature live broadcast studios: all features that wouldn’t be possible without a high-speed internet connection. All you need to do is activate Airplane Mode on your smartphone to be reminded that most of its usefulness is tied to being able to access the internet everywhere.

via Gizmodo

August 4, 2022 at 11:33AM

Martin Shkreli Is Back With a Web3 Drug Discovery Platform

Martin Shkreli—the notorious ex-pharmaceutical executive fresh from prison after his 2017 fraud conviction—announced his latest, eyebrow-raising venture this week: the creation of a blockchain-based Web3 drug discovery platform that traffics in his own cryptocurrency, MSI, aka Martin Shkreli Inu.

The platform, still in the early development phase, is called Druglike, according to a press release that circulated on July 25. Its goals are ostensibly lofty, but the details are extremely sketchy, and Shkreli’s intentions have already drawn skepticism. It’s also unclear whether the enterprise will run Shkreli afoul of his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, which stemmed from the abrupt and callous 4,000 percent price hike of a life-saving drug that made him infamous.

Shkreli, who is named as a cofounder of Druglike, says the platform aims to make early-stage drug discovery more affordable and accessible. “Druglike will remove barriers to early-stage drug discovery, increase innovation and allow a broader group of contributors to share the rewards,” Shkreli said in the press release. “Underserved and underfunded communities, such as those focused on rare diseases or in developing markets, will also benefit from access to these tools.”

Generally, early-stage drug development can sometimes involve virtual screens to identify potential drug candidates. In these cases, pharmaceutical scientists first identify a “target”—a specific compound or protein that plays a critical role in developing a disease or condition. Then researchers look for compounds or small molecules that could interfere with that target, sometimes binding or “docking” directly to the target in a way that keeps it from functioning. This can be done in physical labs using massive libraries of compounds in high-throughput chemical screens. But it can also be done virtually, using specialized software and a lot of computing power, which can be resource-intensive.

Concepts and Questions

That’s where Shkreli’s Druglike is imagined to come in. In a white paper posted on Druglike’s website, Shkreli-associated Jason Sommer lays out some concepts for how the company’s platform would work. Essentially, it would use a decentralized computing network of task providers, solvers, and validators that would run and optimize the virtual screening of drug candidates. The white paper draws similarities to FoldIt, an online puzzle game that essentially uses distributed computing and crowdsourcing to fold proteins and predict their structures.

But Druglike’s platform is touted as incorporating blockchain concepts and cryptocurrency transactions when users complete tasks, such as docking screens. For instance, the paper describes a “proof-of-optimization” concept as a “novel” blockchain-based verification step for screening work, similar to Bitcoin’s “proof-of-work” method.

“We propose a blockchain-based implementation of Proof-of-Optimization, where a distributed ledger stores records of which proof solutions belong to which Solvers. Smart contracts allow secure distribution of rewards to the Solver who owns the verified proof,” Sommer writes in the paper.

But, for now, the white paper only loosely describes these concepts, and it’s unclear how the cryptocurrency transactions will generate value. It’s also unclear how the project will be funded, though an online exchange suggested that the company could look for venture capital financing.

On Twitter, where Shkreli has been banned, he currently has an account as Enrique Hernandez @zkEnrique7. From there, Shkreli announced the company on July 25 and hosted a conversation regarding the project.

In that conversation, he scoffed at the idea that the platform would breach his lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, saying that the project only involves developing software, not drugs. “Writing some code in Github and pressing ‘go’ does not make you a pharmaceutical company,” he said.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.

via Wired Top Stories

July 28, 2022 at 08:08AM

A New Attack Easily Knocked Out a Potential Encryption Algorithm

In the US government’s ongoing campaign to protect data in the age of quantum computers, a new and powerful attack that used a single traditional computer to completely break a fourth-round candidate highlights the risks involved in standardizing the next generation of encryption algorithms.

Last month, the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, selected four post-quantum-computing encryption algorithms to replace algorithms like RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman, which are unable to withstand attacks from a quantum computer.

In the same move, NIST advanced four additional algorithms as potential replacements pending further testing in hopes one or more of them may also be suitable encryption alternatives in a post-quantum world. The new attack breaks SIKE, which is one of the latter four additional algorithms. The attack has no impact on the four PQC algorithms selected by NIST as approved standards, all of which rely on completely different mathematical techniques than SIKE.

Getting Totally SIKEd

SIKE—short for Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation—is now likely out of the running, thanks to research that was published over the weekend by researchers from the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography group at KU Leuven. The paper, titled “An Efficient Key Recovery Attack on SIDH (Preliminary Version),” described a technique that uses complex mathematics and a single traditional PC to recover the encryption keys protecting the SIKE-protected transactions. The entire process requires only about an hour’s time. The feat makes the researchers, Wouter Castryck and Thomas Decru, eligible for a $50,000 reward from NIST.

“The newly uncovered weakness is clearly a major blow to SIKE,” David Jao, a professor at the University of Waterloo and co-inventor of SIKE, wrote in an email. “The attack is really unexpected.”

The advent of public-key encryption in the 1970s was a major breakthrough because it allowed parties who had never met to securely trade encrypted material that couldn’t be broken by an adversary. Public-key encryption relies on asymmetric keys, with one private key used to decrypt messages and a separate public key for encrypting. Users make their public key widely available. As long as their private key remains secret, the scheme remains secure.

In practice, public-key cryptography can often be unwieldy, so many systems rely on key encapsulation mechanisms, which allow parties who have never met before to jointly agree on a symmetric key over a public medium such as the internet. In contrast to symmetric-key algorithms, key encapsulation mechanisms in use today are easily broken by quantum computers. SIKE, before the new attack, was thought to avoid such vulnerabilities by using a complex mathematical construction known as a supersingular isogeny graph.

The cornerstone of SIKE is a protocol called SIDH, short for supersingular isogeny Diffie-Hellman. The research paper published over the weekend shows how SIDH is vulnerable to a theorem known as “glue-and-split” developed by mathematician Ernst Kani in 1997, as well as tools devised by fellow mathematicians Everett W. Howe, Franck Leprévost, and Bjorn Poonen in 2000. The new technique builds on what’s known as the “GPST adaptive attack,” described in a 2016 paper. The math behind the latest attack is guaranteed to be impenetrable to most non-mathematicians. Here’s about as close as you’re going to get:

“The attack exploits the fact that SIDH has auxiliary points and that the degree of the secret isogeny is known,” Steven Galbraith, a University of Auckland mathematics professor and the “G” in the GPST adaptive attack, explained in a short writeup on the new attack. “The auxiliary points in SIDH have always been an annoyance and a potential weakness, and they have been exploited for fault attacks, the GPST adaptive attack, torsion point attacks, etc.”

via Wired Top Stories

August 3, 2022 at 08:09AM

This Sticker Looks Inside the Body

Ultrasound scanners, which image the inside of the human body, are a life-saving medical tool. Now researchers have shrunk the handheld ultrasound probe—which typically requires a highly trained technician to move over the skin—down to a flat chip that is the size of a postage stamp and sticks to the skin with a special bioadhesive. The new device can record high-resolution videos for two days at a stretch, capturing blood vessels and hearts laboring during exercise or stomachs expanding and shrinking as test subjects gulp juice and then digest it.

“The beauty of this is, suddenly, you can adhere this ultrasound probe, this thin ultrasound speaker, to the body over 48 hours,” says Xuanhe Zhao, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of a paper describing the new device, which was published in Science on Thursday. By recording still pictures and videos of internal organs during this time, a wearable imaging device could be used to diagnose heart attacks and malignant tumors, test the effectiveness of medications and assess general heart, lung or muscle health. “This can potentially change the paradigm of medical imaging by empowering long-term continuous imaging,” Zhao adds, “and it can change the paradigm of the field of wearable devices.”

Traditional ultrasounds are great at peering beneath the skin without causing damage to the body, but access to such scans is limited. “The conventional handheld ultrasound requires well-trained technicians to put the probe properly on the skin and apply some liquid gel between the probe and skin,” says Nanshu Lu, a mechanical engineer at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the new research but co-wrote an accompanying analysis in Science. “And as you can imagine, it’s quite tedious and very short-term, very constrained.” Because they require an experienced human operator, Lu explains, these scans are expensive, and they cannot be used in tests where the subject is exercising or putting their body under stress from heat or extreme environments. “Conventional ultrasounds have a lot of limitations,” she says. “If we can make ultrasound sensors wearable and mobile and accessible, it will open a lot of new possibilities.”

Thanks to their potential versatility, other researchers have attempted to make stick-on ultrasound patches. But in order to adhere to soft, stretchy skin, earlier devices were designed to be stretchable themselves. This form factor weakened image quality because it could not accommodate as many transducers—units that, in this case, transform electrical power into sound waves with frequencies too high for human ears to detect. An ultrasound probe sends these waves through a layer of gooey gel into the human body, where they bounce off organs and other internal structures and then return to the transducer array. This converts the mechanical waves back to electrical signals and sends them to a computer for translation into images.

The more transducers, the better the image quality. “It’s very similar to a camera,” explains Philip Tan, an electrical engineer and a graduate student at Lu’s lab at U.T. Austin, who was also not involved with the new study but co-wrote the analysis piece. A stretchy stick-on ultrasound probe, which must be able to flex every time the skin moves, cannot pack as many transducers into the array—and when the wearer moves, the configuration of transducers shifts and makes it difficult to capture stable images.

Instead of making the device itself stretchy, Zhao and his team attached a rigid probe, just three millimeters thick, to a flexible layer of adhesive. This adhesive replaces the gooey liquid placed between a traditional ultrasound wand and the skin, and it is a hybrid of a water-rich polymer called a hydrogel and a rubberlike material called an elastomer. “It is a piece of solid hydrogel containing over 90 percent water, but it is in a solid state like Jell-O,” Zhao says. “We cover the surface of this Jell-O with this very thin membrane of elastomer so that the water inside the Jell-O will not evaporate out.” This bioadhesive not only stuck the probe firmly to the skin for 48 hours, but it also provided a cushioning layer that protected the rigid electronics from the flexing of skin and muscles.

To image different body systems, Zhao’s team tested versions of the probe that produce waves at different frequencies and thus penetrate the body to different depths. For instance, a high frequency such as 10 megahertz might make it to a couple of centimeters beneath the skin. The researchers used this frequency to capture the action of blood vessels and muscles as test subjects shifted from sitting to standing or exercised vigorously. A lower frequency of three megahertz goes deeper, more like six centimeters, to capture internal organs. Using this frequency, the researchers imaged the four chambers of a subject’s heart, and recorded the stomach of another emptying out as their system processed a couple of cups of juice. The researchers also compared the images gathered with their rigid ultrasound probe with those captured by a stretchable ultrasound device, Zhao says. “You can see the resolution of ours is almost one order of magnitude [10 times] higher than the stretchable ultrasound,” he adds.

An imaging device that maintains a continuous watch over specific parts of the body could be used to monitor and diagnose a variety of ailments. Doctors could keep a close eye on the growth of a tumor over time. Someone at high risk of hypertension might wear an ultrasound patch to measure their high blood pressure, alerting them when the pressure spikes or tracking whether a medication is helping. A COVID patient could stay home, knowing that an imaging device would alert them if their illness caused a lung infection severe enough to require hospitalization. Perhaps the most important application could be in the detection and diagnosis of heart attacks. “Cardiovascular disease is … the leading cause of death in the whole world, also in the U.S.,” Zhao says. Heart health is on the radar of other wearable device developers. For instance, smart watches such as the Apple Watch are capable of tracking the electrical signals that indicate heart activity with a so-called electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This can be used to diagnose heart attacks—at least in some cases. “There are already studies showing that EKG can only diagnose around 20 percent of heart attacks. The majority of heart attacks actually require imaging modalities, such as ultrasound imaging, to diagnose,” Zhao says. Continuous imaging of a patient’s heart could capture their symptoms and provide an early diagnosis.

“The big selling point of this new device is that it opens new types of medical diagnosis that can’t be done in a static setting,” Tan says. To assess heart health, for instance, it’s helpful to measure the organ’s activity while exercising—but it’s hard to hold an ultrasound wand against a running subject’s goo-covered chest. “With a wearable ultrasound patch, where you wouldn’t have to hold the transducer on the person, they were actually able to show that you’re able to get very high-quality images of the heart even during motion,” Tan adds.

The bioadhesive device is not ready for action yet, however. For one thing, it still has to be physically plugged into a computer that can collect and analyze the data the probe produces. “We connect this probe through a wire to a data acquisition system,” Zhao says. “But my group is working very hard to miniaturize and integrate everything into our wireless device.” He ultimately plans to upgrade the patch with a miniaturized power source and a wireless data-transmission system. This is a feasible goal, Lu and Tan agree, thanks to shrinking electronic components and fabrication methods that allow these features to be combined into an “ultrasound on a chip.” Lu suggests that if the field can attract federal and private investments, such a device could be feasible within five years, although it would still have to earn approval from federal regulators.

Ultimately, ultrasound stickers could join the ranks of wearables that monitor human health, including existing devices that gather information about heart rate, sleep quality and even stress. “Our human body is radiating a lot of a highly personal, highly continuous, distributed and multimodal data about our health, our emotion, our attention, our readiness, and so on. So we’re full of data,” Lu says. “The question is how to get them reliably and continuously.”

via Scientific American

July 29, 2022 at 04:06PM

Scientists Invent a Paper Battery–Just Add Water

Discarded electronics are piling up fast, pushing researchers to explore creative ways to reduce the resulting trash, known as e-waste. Now one team has crafted a water-activated disposable battery made of paper and other sustainable materials.

The wires, screens and batteries that make up our devices—not to mention the plastic, metal and other materials that encase them—are filling up landfills with hazardous debris. Some e-waste is relatively large: old flip phones, air conditioners and radios, to name just a few common items. Other e-waste is more insidious, such as electronic single-use medical diagnostic kits, environmental sensors and smart labels that contain disposable batteries and other equipment.

“It’s these small batteries that are big problems,” says Dele Ogunseitan, a public health professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a green technology researcher and adviser for major technology companies, who was not involved in the development of the paper battery. “Nobody really pays attention to where they end up.”

Researchers at the Cellulose & Wood Materials Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) are working to address this overlooked problem. This week they published a paper in Scientific Reports describing a new water-activated paper battery they developed out of environmentally friendly materials. Such a device could eventually present a sustainable alternative to the more harmful batteries that are common in low-power devices.

The new paper battery has the same key components as standard batteries but packages them differently. Like a typical chemical battery, it has a positively charged side called a cathode, a negatively charged side called an anode and a conductive material called an electrolyte between the two. A traditional battery’s components are encased in plastic and metal; in the new battery, the anode and cathode are inks printed onto the front and back of a piece of paper. That paper is infused with salt, which dissolves when the paper is dampened with water. The resulting saltwater solution acts as the electrolyte.

Sustainable materials were a prerequisite for the researchers, who only considered nontoxic and abundant ingredients to create their device. “We were fairly confident that we would have something that would work in the end, but developing these materials and ink systems is far from trivial,” says Gustav Nyström, head of the Cellulose & Wood Materials Laboratory and senior author of the study. After trying hundreds of formulations for the different components, the scientists settled on a graphite ink to make the cathode, a zinc ink for the anode and salt-infused paper to create the electrolyte. When the paper is dry, the battery is shelf-stable. Add just a couple of drops of water, however, and the engrained salt dissolves, allowing electrons to flow. After the paper is moistened, it takes about 20 seconds for the battery to activate. At that point, it produces a stable 1.2 volts of electricity until the paper dries out. (For comparison, an AA battery provides 1.5 volts.) When the researchers rewet the paper, the battery produced 0.5 volt for more than an hour.

Although the researchers demonstrated that their battery could power an alarm clock, disposable paper batteries are unlikely to replace standard AAs on store shelves. Instead Nyström envisions a future where these batteries are embedded in diagnostic tests and environmental sensors, ideally with other sustainable components such as screens and packaging. That future may not be so far off.

It is hard to predict a time line for manufacturing such items at scale, but Nyström says he is in contact with potential industry partners and believes these batteries could make their way into products within the next two to five years. “The performance that you see on this device, I think, is sufficient for a lot of these applications already,” he says. It is mostly a matter of scaling up production and integrating the batteries into systems such as diagnostic tests and environmental sensors.

Crucially, Nyström says his team created the battery without compromising on sustainability criteria. “This is work that really starts with the development of sustainable materials,” he explains. From there, he says, “I think we were able to create something that is quite useful.”

via Scientific American

July 29, 2022 at 01:00PM

Meta faces lawsuit for allegedly collecting patient health data without consent

Meta may have scooped up sensitive medical information without consent. The Vergereports that two proposed class-action lawsuits accuse the company and hospitals of violating HIPAA, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and other laws by collecting patient data without consent. Meta’s Pixel analytic tracking tool allegedly sent health statuses, appointment details and other data to Facebook when it was present on patient portals.

In one lawsuit from last month, a patient said Pixel gathered data from the UC San Francisco and Dignity Health portals that was used to deliver ads related to heart and knee issues. The second lawsuit, from June, is broader and claims at least 664 providers shared medical info with Facebook through Pixel.

We’ve asked Meta for comment. The company requires that sites using Pixel obtain the right to share data before sending it to Facebook, but the plaintiffs claim Meta refused to enforce its policies. It placed Pixel on the facilities’ websites despite knowing the kind of data it would collect, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits aren’t guaranteed to achieve class-action status, and such lawsuits rarely provide large payouts to individuals. If successful, though, the legal action could prove costly for Meta. They’re asking for damages on behalf of all Facebook users whose healthcare providers rely on Pixel, and that could include millions of people.

They also follow a string of privacy-related US legal action against the social media giant. Meta is facing a DC Attorney General suit over Cambridge Analytica’s collection of more than 70 million Americans’ personal data. The company is also grappling with lawsuits over its deactivated facial recognition system, and only this year settled a 2012 class-action over the use of tracking cookies. These latest courtroom battles suggest that concerns about Meta’s data gathering practices are far from over, even as the company makes its own efforts to crack down on misuse.

via Engadget

August 2, 2022 at 11:40AM

Nature Impacts Children’s Lung Function, Study Suggests

Getting outside has many benefits. It can boost your mood, reduce stress and promote relaxation.

And now, according to a recent study, researchers have found that the outdoors can also improve children’s health, specifically lung function.

The study suggests that surrounding children between birth and their 10th birthday with a home life that has green spaces can lead to better lung function. And because urban areas tend to have limited access to green space, the study also emphasizes the need for nature in urban settings, according to a press release.

“We know that early childhood is a crucial time for lungs to grow and develop, and that a child’s environment and the air they breathe can have an impact on their lung health for the rest of their life,” says Professor Marielle Pijnenburg in a press release, who is the head of the pediatric assembly of the European Respiratory Society and was not involved in the research.

According to the press release, Dr. Diogo Queiroz Almeida from the University of Porto, Portugal led the study that included 3278 children living in and around Porto. After using satellite data and assessing the amount of green space near the children’s homes, researchers gauged the children’s lung function by their forced vital capacity (FVC).

Based on the FVC, researchers could determine the maximum amount of air the child could blow out after taking their deepest breath. This then revealed how well the children’s lungs were working. They did this process for the children when they were born, at four, seven and ten years old.

“We found that living in greener neighborhoods as children grow up is more important for their breathing than living in a green area when they were born. This may be because babies spend much less time outdoors than children,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release.

As a child’s home became greener, either due to environmental changes or moving to a new house, their lung function became healthier.

“Our research suggests the greener, the better. These improvements are modest at around two percent. However, if we look at the whole population, making our neighborhoods greener could have a considerable impact,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release. “We looked at factors like physical activity and air pollution, but the link between lung function and moving closer to green space remained, even after we took these into account. It could also be that getting closer to nature reduces stress, which can improve physical health, or it might have a positive effect on children’s microbiome — the community of different bacteria that live in our bodies.”

Queiroz Almeida recommends creating more green spaces in urban areas, since house prices usually dictate where families can live. Some families just can’t afford to live in greener neighborhoods.

“To reduce health inequalities, we need to make our cities greener, especially in areas where there is little or no green space. In particular, we need to involve children and their carers to make sure our parks and gardens suit their needs,” says Queiroz Almeida in a press release.

More studies are needed though, and researchers continue to look at the role of nature for children’s health, and how and why younger people use green spaces.

via Discover Main Feed

July 26, 2022 at 07:04PM