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Archive for May, 2020

What is Fuzzing and How Did It Find 26 USB Bugs?

Fuzzing is a method of testing with automated software which provides invalid, unexpected, and random data as inputs to a computer program. The testing program then monitors for crashes, assertions and potential memory leaks.

A research team based from Purdue University came up with USBFuzz, which pushes enormous amounts of random data through the USB bus of a system. Hui Peng and Mathias payer (from the Swiss Federal Institute of Tech) came up with the idea and program.

Please don’t lose any sleep over the bugs found.

Peng and Mathias found one bug in FreeBSD, three in MacOS (two resulting in an unplanned reboot and one freezing the system), four in Windows 8 and Windows 10 (resulting in Blue Screens of Death) and the vast majority of bugs, in Linux — 18 in total.

Of all these bugs, Windows users do not need to worry, they have been fixed. Of the 18 found in Linux, 16 of them have been corrected already. Those correct where major security flaws.

What we like about the USBFuzz is the underlying theme to improve the security of the USB platform and continued improvement. We also like USBFuzz becoming an open source bit of code that everyone may use to strengthen thier USB product. The team will release a version on GitHub later this year, 2020.

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Three Options For Recycling Flash Drives

The last two decades have ushered in an enormous number of electronics. Prices get lower, users upgrade, society reapes the benefits of these advancements. This explosive growth in electronics has led to an escalating burst for EOL (end-of-life) electronics and e-waste. When electronic devices are left in traditional landfills toxic materials can be released into the soil and environment.

With new cheap devices, society has reaped tremendous benefits. This explosive growth in the electronics industry, however, has led to a rapidly escalating issue of end-of-life (EOL) electronics or e-waste. In landfills or primitive recycling operations, toxic materials can be released from old electronic devices into the environment.

E-waste is growing, and with that surge comes the need for effective electronics recycling programs. As of 2018, e-waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated waste stream of 48.5 million tonnes in 2018, valued at 62.5 billion US Dollars.

The amount of e-wast from USB flash drives is unknown from the above statistics, yet it’s not entirely necessary to make flash drives part of the e-waste equation. There are options for recycling USB flash drives.

Option One:

Run antivirus software from a USB flash drive.

If your computer is infected with malware, running an antivirus within Windows may not be enough to remove it. If your computer has a rootkit, the malware may be able to hide itself from the antivirus software. The only proven way to ride your system of a nasty virus would be starting your computer from outside the Windows environment and start the cleaning process from there.

This is where bootable antivirus solutions come in. They can clean malware from outside the infected Windows system, so the malware won’t be running and interfering with the clean-up process. The HowToGeek website did a nice write-up on this topic. If this is a tool you need, don’t e-waste your USB flash drive, rather make a bootable antivirus software stick.

Option Two:

Run Linux from a USB flash drive.

As of 2020 the percentage of Windows computer users is still an impressive 88%. Mac users are 10% and Linux users are the remaining 2%. Have you ever used Linux? It’s actually a fantastic operating system and at least something to play around with if you have spare USB media. Rather than e-cycling your USB stick, you can download a Linux operating system and give it a run. The process is not difficult and (nearly) any non-technical person can download and install Linux on a flash drive.

Slax is a well know Linux package. The instructions for download and installation are straight forward and simple. It is highly recommended to try this version of Linux as your first exposure to the operating system.

Several benefits of running Linux from a USB include trying the operating system without investing money in new hardware, or making changes to your current Windows operating system.

Learning to run Linux from a flash drive will give you an advantage in the event of a computer failure. For example, a computer gets bogged down with a nasty virus and you need to access some files quickly. There is no time for a lengthy cleaning process (scanning a hard drive can take hours). Booting into Linux from a USB stick will give you access to the memory of the hard drive to access the files you need.

Option Three:

Recycle USB drives for a good cause. “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

Isn’t that how the saying goes? Said another way, you can donate your USB drives to an organization who can re-purpose those drives and provide them to others in need. Pivoting from option number two, a non-profit organization called SugarLabs.org puts a Linux based operating system on a flash drive. The operating system is a special version of Linux and is designed to teach young kids how computers work. The not for profit organization sends these donated drives all over the world. SugarLabs is based in Boston Massachusetts and founded by Walter Bender a graduate of Harvard and technology researcher from MIT Media Labs.

Part of the SugarLabs process is insuring each USB drive is clean from any personal data or potentially harmful malware. RecycleUSB.com is a website and business which manages the sanitizing and cleaning of the donated USB flash drives before sending to Walter and his team at SugarLabs. The recycle USB website lists the “how to” steps on donating media, contact information for any questions someone might have and sanitizing steps used to clear data from the flash drives. The partnership between RecycleUSB and SugarLabs started back in December of 2009 when flash drives began having the storage capacity to hold a portable operating system (about 2GBs).

After reading the above options for recycling USB flash memory and you find yourself still wanting to e-waste the flash drives, be sure to check your community or city about e-waste programs. In nearly all cities and counties it is not recommended to throw away electronics into the standard garbage service. Be sure to enlist the use of recyclers who are certified through either of the voluntary certification programs that have been established to ensure responsible recycling, including R2/RIOS and e-stewards.

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Single Atom Transistor Recipe Sets The Stage For Quantum Computers

Some really smart researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and some of their colleagues at the University of Maryland developed a step-by-step recipe to produce the atomic-scale devices. Atomic scaled devices is the heart of quantum computing. Said in a very simple way; “quantum” is the Latin word for “amount” and is the smallest possible physical unit which has energy (or matter).

These really smart scientists demonstrated they could precisely control the flow of electrons through a really small physical gap or electrical barrier, known as a transistor. The hard thing is controlling the flow of energey (electrons) through stuff that is really, really small, like an atom. What the team came up with, is a reciepe to create atoms that could be controlled with electrons.

In really simple terms, this is the recipe:

The team used a known technique in which a silicon chip is covered with a layer of hydrogen atoms, which readily bind to silicon.

Used a fine tip, like really fine tip, scanning microscope and removed hydrogen atoms at selected parts of the silicon.

What was left is a hydrogen barrier with only certain parts removed from the scanning device (above).

Next, the team directed some phosphine gas at the silicone and the gas covered the hydrogen atoms but leaked through where hydrogen atoms had been removed.

As the last step, the smart guys heated the silicone which created a reaction. The reaction created a foundation of a series of highly stable, single atom devices that act like a quibit… or bit.

This is all a bit overwhelming to understand so the below video will help. The exciting thing is a repeatable process has been defined to make a single quantum unit programmable. Translated into day-to-day applications, there is great hope we will all get computers 100x more powerful than today’s in about the size of an Apple watch.

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Off Topic: Making Home Brew Starbucks Vanilla Latte – Life Changer

DIY recipes are beloved for many reasons; saving money, saving time and the rewarding task of simply doing it yourself. Today is a post that is clearly off topic from the normal USB hacks and news we typically post about. Today we are talking about making a Starbucks coffee at home. Not the standard black coffee from Starbucks, but the more delicious variety like the vanilla latte.

At the time of this post the Coronavirus is in full swing and many Starbucks shops are closed, or limited hours, or the drive-thru line is too long for the wait. Here is your in-home solution:

The first thing to understand is how sweet Starbucks really makes their drinks. It is well known the calorie intake and carbohydrate count for a vanilla latte is fairly high. This DIY recipe will help you control those intake amounts to help better control the sugar intake your body gets from these sweet-delicious-energy-giving drinks.

We should really give Starbucks serious credit on figuring out the right bit of sugar and caffeine to jump start the heart rate in a legally addictive way.

Starting with a vanilla latte, the true magic of this drink is the full, frothy milk. No requirement for a fancy frother which you see on the Starbucks counter top, but rather a simple $40 (about) milk frother from Amazon will do the trick (Miroco). The Miroco is a fantastic product and truly a life changer for making coffee flavored drinks. Probably the best “appliance” purchase we’ve made since the introduction of the DVR in 1999 (feel free to challenge us on this claim {wink}).

starbucks frother

First step is brew your coffee. Use any brand. If you really want the exact taste of a Starbucks version, use their coffee, but honestly they put enough sugar and syrup into these drinks, the coffee brand doesn’t matter all that much.

Once the coffee is brewed, fire up the milk frother.

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