Computer crimes More and more, the operations of our businesses, governments, and financial institutions are controlled by information that exists only inside computer memories. Anyone clever enough to modify this information for his own purposes can reap substantial re wards. Even worse, a number of people who have done this and been caught at it have managed to get away without punishment.
These facts have not been lost on criminals or would-be criminals. A recent Stanford Research Institute study of computer abuse was based on 160 case histories, which probably are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. After all, we only know about the unsuccessful crimes. How many successful ones have gone undetected is anybody's guess.
Here are a few areas in which computer criminals have found the pickings all too easy.
Banking. All but the smallest banks now keep their accounts on computer files. Someone who knows how to change the numbers in the files can transfer funds at will. For instance, one programmer was caught having the computer transfer funds from other people's accounts to his wife's checking account. Often, tradition ally trained auditors don't know enough about the workings of computers to catch what is taking place right under their noses.
Business. A company that uses computers extensively offers many opportunities to both dishonest employees and clever outsiders. For instance, a thief can have the computer ship the company's products to addresses of his own choosing. Or he can have it issue checks to him or his confederates for imaginary supplies or ser vices. People have been caught doing both.
Credit Cards. There is a trend toward using cards similar to credit cards to gain access to funds through cash-dispensing terminals. Yet, in the past, organized crime has used stolen or counterfeit credit cards to finance its operations. Banks that offer after-hours or remote banking through cash-dispensing terminals may find themselves unwillingly subsidizing organized crime.
Theft of Information. Much personal information about individuals is now stored in computer files. An unauthorized person with access to this information could use it for blackmail. Also, confidential information about a company's products or operations can be stolen and sold to unscrupulous competitors. (One attempt at the latter came to light when the competitor turned out to be scrupulous and turned in the people who were trying to sell him stolen information.)
Software Theft. The software for a computer system is often more expensive than the hardware. Yet this expensive software is all too easy to copy. Crooked computer experts have devised a variety of tricks for getting these expensive programs printed out, punched on cards, recorded on tape, or otherwise delivered into their hands. This crime has even been perpetrated from remote terminals that access the computer over the telephone.
Theft of Time-Sharing Services. When the public is given access to a system, some members of the public often discover how to use the system in unauthorized ways. For example, there are the "phone freakers" who avoid long distance telephone charges by sending over their phones control signals that are identical to those used by the telephone company.
Since time-sharing systems often are accessible to anyone who dials the right telephone number, they are subject to the same kinds of manipulation.
Of course, most systems use account numbers and passwords to restrict access to authorized users. But unauthorized persons have proved to be adept at obtaining this information and using it for their own benefit. For instance, when a police computer system was demonstrated to a school class, a precocious student noted the access codes being used; later, all the student's teachers turned up on a list of wanted criminals.
Perfect Crimes. It's easy for computer crimes to go undetected if no one checks up on what the computer is doing. But even if the crime is detected, the criminal may walk away not only unpunished but with a glowing recommendation from his former employers.
Of course, we have no statistics on crimes that go undetected. But it's unsettling to note how many of the crimes we do know about were detected by accident, not by systematic audits or other security procedures. The computer criminals who have been caught may have been the victims of uncommonly bad luck.
For example, a certain keypunch operator complained of having to stay overtime to punch extra cards. Investigation revealed that the extra cards she was being asked to punch were for fraudulent transactions. In another case, disgruntled employees of the thief tipped off the company that was being robbed. An undercover narcotics agent stumbled on still another case. An employee was selling the company's merchandise on the side and using the computer to get it shipped to the buyers. While negotiating for LSD, the narcotics agent was offered a good deal on a stereo!
Unlike other embezzlers, who must leave the country, commit suicide, or go to jail, computer criminals sometimes brazen it out, demanding not only that they not be prosecuted but also that they be given good recommendations and perhaps other benefits, such as severance pay. All too often, their demands have been met.
Why? Because company executives are afraid of the bad publicity that would result if the public found out that their computer had been misused. They cringe at the thought of a criminal boasting in open court of how he juggled the most confidential records right under the noses of the company's executives, accountants, and security staff. And so another computer criminal departs with just the recommendations he needs to continue his exploits elsewhere.
Biologically Inspired Damaging even a single binary digit is enough to shut your computer down. According to computer scientist Peter Bentley, if your car was as brittle as the conventional computer, then every chipped windscreen or wheel scrape would take your car off the road. He is part of a group developing biologically inspired technologies at UCL. They have developed a self-repairing computer, which can instantly recover from crashes by fixing corrupted data.
Bentley started from scratch. He says, ‘if we want a computer to behave like a natural organism, then what would the architecture of that computer look like? I spent several years trying to make the concept as simple as possible.’ He designed a simulation with its own calculus, graph notation, programming language and compiler. His PhD students worked on improvements and developed software and biological models that show it really can survive damage. He continues, ‘we can corrupt up to a third of a program and the computer can regenerate its code, repairing itself and making itself work again.’
Systemic Architecture A centralized architecture will fail as soon as one component fails. Our brains lose neurons every day but we're fine because the brain can reconfigure itself to make use of what is left. The systemic computer does the same thing. The systemic computer uses a pool of systems where its equivalent of instructions may be duplicated several times.
With the traditional computer if you wanted to add numbers together it would have a program with a single add instruction. In a systemic computer it might have several ‘adds’ floating about, any of which might be used to perform that calculation. It's the combination of multiple copies of instructions and data and decentralization, plus randomness that enables the systemic computer to be robust against damage and repair its own code.
New Programming Concept Bentley’s team is working to improve the programming language further, and to create software that will allow the computer to learn and adapt to new data. He says they are constantly looking for better hardware on which to implement the computer and would love to collaborate with industry and develop a version of this new kind of computer for everyone.
Algorithm - how do I feel? Matt Dobson
As we increasingly depend on digital technology for every aspect of our lives, a new smartphones app offers a window on our moods and emotions
Spike Jonze’s much-discussed movie ‘Her’, explores our emotional relationship with our virtual helpers in the future, our interfaces with the many different online activities we will depend on. In the future perhaps these new interfaces may also help us understand ourselves a little better, like the forthcoming app from the Cambridge-based ei Technologies – ei stands for ‘emotionally intelligent’.
The company is developing an app that will be able to identify peoples’ moods from smartphone conversations, via the acoustics rather than the content of a conversation. Such a technology has obvious commercial usages in a world where we interact with computer voices for services such as banking. ‘In call centres,’ says CEO Matt Dobson, ‘it’s about understanding how satisfied my customers are. As a consumer you have a perception and that is driven by a modulation and tone in their voice.’
Engineer’s natural curiosity
Dobson’s background in healthcare, working for Glaxo Smith Klein and Phillips Electronics, developed an interest in mental health where this technology offers significant possibilities. ‘I really wanted to do something in the area of emotion recognition and mental health,’ says Dobson. Then a friend of his in Cambridge showed him an article, they looked at some technical papers and thought they could build something. ‘If you look at the mental health market it is one of the biggest needs, bigger than cancer and heart disease, yet has about a tenth of the funding.’ Dobson cites examples such as media coverage of cricketer Jonathan Trott coming home from the Ashes tour and the CEO of Lloyds taking time off due to stress, as examples of greater public awareness of psychological issues.
Before Dobson did an MBA at Cambridge, his primary degree was in Mechanical Engineering at Bath – this grounding in science gave him a subtle head start. ‘Engineering is all about natural curiosity, not being afraid to tinker and play with stuff,’ says Dobson, ‘I am not an expert in this area but I know enough to ask the right, smart questions and can review a research paper and get a good idea what the limits of the possible are.’
Starting up the venture, they needed expertise in the area of speech and language, and machine learning. So they called on Stephen Cox, a specialist in speech recognition and Professor of Computing Science at the University of East Anglia, who is now an adviser.
The ‘empathetic algorithm’ is based around the idea that we can differentiate between emotions, without necessarily knowing what words mean – think of watching TV or Films in a different language. ‘It’s about understanding what parts of the voice communicate emotions, acoustically what features betray emotion – we use probably 200 to 300 features in each section of speech we analyse.’ They gathered data to train the system, which then uses statistics to pick out the most probable emotion being expressed amongst all the other background and mechanical noise on the phone.
Soon, says Dobson, they will have a free app where the conversation we have just had can be emotionally analysed and the users can tweet to a Twitter page. ‘It will say “Matt had this conversation”, I can include your twitter handle in there and it creates the dialogue between us and say “I had a happy conversation with John from Cubed”.’
But the next step, involving a kind of emotional life-tracking is more complicated. ‘That is quite a sophisticated piece of software,’ says Dobson. The idea being that we will be able to cross-reference our emotional states with other bits of our data from other parts of our day. ‘How we can use this data to basically monitor and understand human behaviour?’ says Dobson. In monitoring, ‘people’s mental health if they are depressed, can we understand when and why they are depressed?’
The Art of Sitting: How to sit in your ergonomic chair correctly
Correct sitting is not all about sitting up straight
Correct working posture
Always sit back and move your chair close to the desk to maintain contact between your back and the seat back to help support and maintain the inward curve of the lumbar spine.
This can easily be achieved by choosing a seat which has a forward tilt of 5°-15° thereby ensuring your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
Poor working posture
Do not perch on the front of your seat. Do not place your keyboard too far away. Instead move it closer to the front of the desk
Avoid incorrect slouching where the angle of the pelvis rotates backwards. This results in the loss of the inward curve in the lumbar spine, causing excessive strain on the lumbar discs.
You can slouch if you need to in an ergonomic chair
Balanced rocking pelvic tilt and adjustable floating chairs allow the user to release the whole seat and back into free float thereby allowing the user to lean back and 'slouch correctly' whilst the chair supports the user.
You must ensure that you remain in the correct position with bottom back and the chair back following the lumbar spine.
Do not be tempted to slide forwards as this will stop the natural inward curve of the lumbar spine.
Take care with synchro mechanisms whereby the "freefloat" feature allows the chair back to go past 90° resulting in the pelvis rotating backwards to reduce the curve of the lumbar spine.
Physical ergonomics: the science of designing user interaction with equipment and workplaces to fit the user.
Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomy, and some of the anthropometric, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity. Physical ergonomic principles have been widely used in the design of both consumer and industrial products. Physical ergonomics is important in the medical field, particularly to those diagnosed with physiological ailments or disorders such as arthritis (both chronic and temporary) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure that is insignificant or imperceptible to those unaffected by these disorders may be very painful, or render a device unusable, for those who are. Many ergonomically designed products are also used or recommended to treat or prevent such disorders, and to treat pressure-related chronic pain.
One of the most prevalent types of work-related injuries is musculoskeletal disorder. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMDs) result in persistent pain, loss of functional capacity and work disability, but their initial diagnosis is difficult because they are mainly based on complaints of pain and other symptoms. Every year, 1.8 million U.S. workers experience WRMDs and nearly 600,000 of the injuries are serious enough to cause workers to miss work. Certain jobs or work conditions cause a higher rate of worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue, discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest. These types of jobs are often those involving activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent, heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found substantial evidence that ergonomics programs can cut workers' compensation costs, increase productivity and decrease employee turnover. Therefore, it is important to gather data to identify jobs or work conditions that are most problematic, using sources such as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses.