The Invisible Battlefields Of The Russia-Ukraine War

Early in the morning of February 24th, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies watched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold in realtime with troop movements overlaid atop high-resolution satellite imagery. This wasn’t privileged information — anybody with an internet connection could access it, if they knew where to look. He was watching a traffic jam on Google Maps slowly inch towards and across the Russia-Ukraine border.

As he watched the invasion begin along with the rest of the world, another, less-visible facet of the emerging war was beginning to unfold on an ill-defined online battlefield. Digital espionage, social media and online surveillance have become indispensable instruments in the tool chest of a modern army, and both sides of the conflict have been putting these tools to use. Combined with civilian access to information unlike the world has ever seen before, this promises to be a war like no other.

Modern Cyberwarfare

The first casualties in the online component of the war have been websites. Two weeks ago, before the invasion began en masse, Russian cyberwarfare agents launched distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian government and financial websites. Subsequent attacks have temporarily downed the websites of Ukraine’s Security Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and government. A DDoS attack is a relatively straightforward way to quickly take a server offline. A network of internet-connected devices, either owned by the aggressor or infected with malware, floods a target with request, as if millions of users hit “refresh” on the same website at the same time, repeatedly. The goal is to overwhelm the server such that it isn’t able to keep up and stops replying to legitimate requests, like a user trying to access a website. Russia denied involvement with the attacks, but US and UK intelligence services have evidence they believe implicates Moscow. Continue reading “The Invisible Battlefields Of The Russia-Ukraine War”

Gaming Twitter’s Trending Algorithm To Make A Point

If you have ever taken to Twitter to gauge the zeitgeist, you’ll have noticed that among the trending hashtags related to major events of the day there are sometimes outliers of minority interest associated with single-issue causes. When a cause with a distasteful pedigree was cited one as proof of widespread public support in a debate in the UK’s House of Lords there were concerns raised that a flaw in the ranking algorithm might be responsible, and it was left to [Mallory Moore] to prove the hypothesis by getting a #ThisIsAnExploit hashtag trending without a groundswell of popular support.

Some previous detective work had established that equal ranking might be awarded equally not simply for Tweeting a hashtag but also for retweeting it. The exploit takes advantage of this by means of a relatively small cadre of people all Tweeting the tag a number of times, then retweeting all other instances of it. The resulting rank gain is then in the order of the square of the number of accounts interacting with the tag, and thus hugely inflated over the number of real participants. To test this she created the #ThisIsAnExploit tag and asked her followers to do just that: Tweet it and retweet all others containing it. In a short time the exploit succeeded, beating a very high-profile tag associated with the travails of the British Prime Minister in the process, and with most of the effort due to only 50 accounts.

Our world is now significantly influenced by social media because for many it appears more trustworthy than the old-style mass media with a print origin. Work like this is important because a reminder that transferring the message from newspaper proprietors to tech barons does not confer credibility is sorely needed. Meanwhile now the weakness is in the wild we wonder how Hackaday readers might have fun with it. Does anyone want to see a #RaiseTheJollyWrencher hashtag top the pile?

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Hackaday Links: January 16, 2022

As winter well and truly grips the northern hemisphere, it’s time once again to dunk on Tesla for leaving some owners out in the cold — literally. It seems that some Model 3 and Model Y owners are finding their ride’s heat pump isn’t exactly up to the task of, you know, pumping heat. That this seems to be happening mostly in the northeastern US and southern Canada, where a polar vortex is once again dominating the weather and driving temperatures down into the -30 °C (-22 °F) range, perhaps speaks more to the laws of thermodynamics than it does to the engineering of the Tesla climate control system. After all, if there’s not much heat outside the car, it’s hard to pump it inside. But then again, these are expensive machines, some of which have had extensive repairs to address this exact same issue when it cropped up last year. It seems to us that owners have a legitimate gripe with Tesla about this, and they may be getting some help from the Feds, who are taking an interest in the situation from a safety standpoint. After all, no heat likely means fogged up windows, and that’s hardly conducive to a safe trip. But hey, that’s what self-driving is for, right?

Much has been made of the dearth of engineering cameras on the James Webb Space Telescope, and the fact that we’ve been relying on animations to illustrate the dozens of deployments needed to unfurl the observatory and make it ready for its mission. Putting aside the fact that adding extra cameras to the spacecraft makes little sense since the interesting stuff was all happening on the side where the sun doesn’t shine, we did get treated to what was billed as “humanity’s last look at Webb” thanks to an engineering camera on the Ariane 5 rocket. But not so fast — an astrophotographer named Ethan Gone managed to spot the JWST as it transited to L2 the day after launch. Granted, the blip of light isn’t as spectacular as the Ariane shots, and it took a heck of a lot of astrophotography gear to do it, but it’s still thrilling to watch Webb moving gracefully through Orion.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: January 16, 2022”

A Bullet For The Digital You

Harkening back to a not-so-distant past where duels settled arguments, [Joris Wegner] put a twist on the idea of quarrels with a gun that damages your online persona rather than your physical one. The controversy of social media is nothing new, but most people today have a large percentage of their lives online. A gun that can destroy your social media by deleting your account feels far more potent than most would like to admit.

At the heart of this build, each gun contains a battery-powered ESP8266 that connects to another ESP8266 in the gun case, which in turn is connected to a computer. When a trigger is pulled, the computer deletes the Facebook account with the credentials stored on the gun. It offers a new look at the importance of one’s social media presence. While the concept of being attacked on social media is nothing new, the idea of digitally dying on social media is perhaps something new. This particular project was put on hold when [Joris] realized that Facebook accounts can be reactivated after 30 days, which renders the gesture less potent.

Playful and interesting twists on the idea of a gun are nothing new here on Hackaday. We’ve seen also [Joris’] work before with a MIDI-controlled video distortion box.

Be On Twitter Without Being On Twitter

Social media can connect us to a vibrant worldwide community, but it is also a huge time sink as it preys on both our need for attention and our insatiable curiosity. Kept on a leash by those constant notification sounds, we can easily look up from our phones to find half a day has gone and we’re behind with our work. [Laura Lytle] has a plan to tackle this problem, her OutBox project involves a single button press machine that posts a picture to Twitter of whatever is put in it. It’s not just another gateway to social media addiction though, she tells us it follows Design For Disuse principles in which it must be powered up and adjusted for each picture, and that it provides no feedback to satisfy the social media craving.

Under the hood of the laser-cut housing reminiscent of an older hobby 3D printer is a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ and a webcam, with a ring of LEDs for illumination. On top is the only interface, a small “arm” button to set things up and a big red arcade button to do the business. The software is in Python, and provides glue between resizing the photo, uploading it to a cloud service, and triggering ITTT to do the Tweeting. You can see the whole thing in the video below, and the result is a rather eye-catching device.

Of course, there are other ways to keep yourself off social media.

Continue reading “Be On Twitter Without Being On Twitter”

Robot Telephone Operator Handles Social Media For You

Social media has become pervasive in modern life. It can be impossible to get so much as an invite to a party without offering up your personal data at the altar of the various tech companies. [David] wanted to avoid the pressures of seeing countless photos of people climbing mountains and eating tacos, but also didn’t want to ostracize himself by avoiding social media altogether. Naturally, automation was the answer.

[David] aptly named his robot Telephone Operator, and that’s precisely what it does. Stepper motors and a servo allow the robot’s capacitive appendage to interact with the touch screen on [David]’s iPhone. A camera is fitted, and combined with OpenCV, the robot is capable of a great many important tasks.

Liking Instagram posts? Done. Reposting inane tweets? Easy. Asking your pal Mike what’s up? Yep, Telephone Operator has it covered. Given the low quality of human interaction on such platforms, it’s entirely possible [David] has the Turing Test beat without even trying. The robot even has that lazy continuous Sunday morning scroll down pat. It’s spooky stuff.

Of course, if you’re too in love with social media to trust an automaton, you might instead prefer to wear your likes on your sleeve. Video after the break.

[Thanks to dechemist for the tip!]

Continue reading “Robot Telephone Operator Handles Social Media For You”

Social Media Jacket Puts Your Likes On Your Sleeve

The great irony of the social media revolution is that it’s not very social at all. Users browse through people’s pictures in the middle of the night while laying in bed, and tap out their approval with all the emotion of clearing their spam folder. Many boast of hundreds or thousands of “friends”, but if push came to shove, they probably couldn’t remember when they had last seen even a fraction of those people in the real world. Assuming they’ve even met them before in the first place. It’s the dystopian future we were all warned about, albeit a lot more colorful than we expected.

But what if we took social media tropes like “Likes” and “Follows”, and applied them to the real world? That’s precisely what [Tuang] set out to do with the “Social Touch Suit”, a piece of wearable technology which requires a person actually make physical contact with the wearer to perform social engagements. There’s even a hefty dose of RGB LEDs to recreate the flashy and colorful experience of today’s social media services.

Every social action requires that a specific and deliberate physical interaction be performed, which have largely been designed to mimic normal human contact. A pat on the shoulder signifies you want to follow the wearer, and adding them as a friend is as easy as giving a firm handshake. These interactions bring more weight to the decisions users make. For example, if somebody wants to remove you as a friend, they’ll need to muster up the courage to look you in the eye while they hit the button on your chest.

The jacket uses an Arduino to handle the low level functions, and a Raspberry Pi to not only provide the slick visuals of the touch screen display, but record video from the front and rear integrated cameras. That way you’ve even got video of the person who liked or disliked you. As you might expect, there’s a considerable energy requirement for this much hardware, but with a 5200 mAh LiPo battery in the pocket [Tuang] says she’s able to get a run time of 3 to 4 hours.

Considering how much gadgetry is packed into it, the whole thing looks remarkably wearable. We wouldn’t say it’s a practical piece of outerwear when fully decked out, but most of the electronic components can be removed if you feel like going low-key. [Tuang] also points out that for a garment to be functional it really needs to be washable as well, so being able to easily strip off the sensitive components was always an important part of the design in her mind.

The technology to sensors wearable and flexible is still largely in its infancy, but we’ve very excited to see where it goes. If projects like these inspire you, be sure to check out the presentation [Kitty Yeung] gave at the Hackaday Supercon where she talks about her vision for bespoke wearable technology. Continue reading “Social Media Jacket Puts Your Likes On Your Sleeve”