As side-channel attacks go, it’s one of the weirder ones we’ve heard of. But the tech news was filled with stories this week about how Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is actually a form of cyberattack. It sounds a little hinky, but apparently this is an old vulnerability, as it was first noticed back in the days when laptops commonly had 5400-RPM hard drives. The vulnerability surfaced when the video for that particular ditty was played on a laptop, which would promptly crash. Nearby laptops of the same kind would also be affected, suggesting that whatever was crashing the machine wasn’t software related. As it turns out, some frequencies in the song were causing resonant vibrations in the drive. It’s not clear if anyone at the time asked the important questions, like exactly which part of the song was responsible or what the failure mode was on the drive. We’ll just take a guess and say that it was the drive heads popping and locking.
Speaking of security, news came out ahead of DEFCON of a vulnerability in the Emergency Alert System, the US civil preparedness notification system. The first part of the video below covers the vulnerability, which involves one brand of EAS encoder/decoder, a box all broadcasters are required to have in their studios, which might let an attacker override legit alerts or send out a false one. The original warning from the Department of Homeland Security urged broadcasters to patch its firmware before DEFCON, when exploit details would go public. We were curious about what exactly this fancy-schmancy box is, but judging by a rear panel photo, it seems like this is just a small commodity PC in a rack-mount case, which a couple of GPIO connectors and some antenna jacks. The user manual does state that the PC runs Linux, so at least it’s not Windows XP, but we could easily see a box like this being tucked in a console somewhere and forgotten about. Pretty scary.
We’ve often felt that if you want to know what the future will look like, pay attention to the small details in science fiction. Sci-fi authors have a particular knack for extrapolating current trends and using them to spice up their work. That came to mind when we read about a new effort to make fake bacon from mushrooms, which will resonate with anyone who has read The Expanse series, where almost all the food is made with mushrooms. It makes sense; mushrooms grow well without a lot of sunlight and can survive on composted waste, making them ideal as a food source for a space-faring species in a resource-constrained environment. The terrestrial fake bacon factory will grow enormous slabs of fungal mycelium in large vertical farms; oil, flavoring, and colors will make the sliced mycelium look and taste a little like bacon. It sounds pretty dreadful, honestly, but no worse than some of the things mentioned in The Expanse. Mushroom whiskey, anyone?
And finally, we’ve probably all seen those iconic shots of stage separations from the Apollo program, and just accepted that they exist and are very cool artifacts of an amazing engineering feat. And we just sort of take it for granted that spaceflights are highly instrumented events, rockets bristling with cameras and sensors to catch every marketable moment — looking at you, SpaceX. But in the 1960s? Not so much — we barely got sub-potato video of Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the moon. So how did we get those awesome engineering views? Fran Blanche has the answer, the short version of which is film cameras that dropped their payloads back to Earth to be snagged by aircraft while descending on parachutes. There are a lot of neat technical details in the video, including the fiber optics used to film the interior of the liquid oxygen tanks. And the raw stage separation footage at the end is very relaxing, too.