Monday tech roundupIs the next Presidential election in the US going to be decided by Google? Maybe, maybe not, but there certainly seems to be a possibility of search results having an effect on how the undecided voters will cast their vote. Also last week, we learnt of a new IoT threat which is using radio waves, we speculated about the iPad getting more useful features and finally we talked about the latest exploit in Firefox.

Can Google choose the next US President?

We all know Google is powerful, but is all powerful? Perhaps, at least according to a new study that shows its search ranking may be enough to sway a close presidential election the US or elsewhere.

The idea is that voters looking for information on a candidate will likely hit up Google. If Google rankings seem to favor one candidate over another, it could sway votes.

One author of the study by the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology believes the influence could be stunning. “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world. Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections,” said psychologist Robert Epstein.

That is pretty strong stuff. But the researchers presuppose, for the sake of the study, that the search results are heavily skewed, and measured the effects such skewed results might have.

The first experiment mimicked the 2010 general election in Australia for Prime Minister. The technique was pretty simple. One group was given search results favoring one candidate, the other got results favoring the opponent. These results made the surfers 48 percent more likely to vote for the candidate with positive results.

Now if we can all come back to reality, I doubt results would ever be this skewed as search results reflect what is going on in the traditional and digital media, not to mention the personalized search Google is known to serve its users. Results can be manipulated by Google-bombing, but I doubt enough to sway an election, unless that race was insanely close.

Radio hack the new IoT threat?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an exciting and scary phenomenon. We have potentially billions of small IP-enable devices, many of which can be turned into attack machines, spreading spam and malware. This includes sensors, smart appliances and home automation devices. Even smart or wireless-capable printers can be turned.

A research startup believes the threat may be even more serious than we previously thought, and a proof of concept, demonstrated a way to turn any IP-ready device into a radio – transmitting out the data the device contains or data of the machines that device is connected to. The hack happens without any network connection at all!

For military operations, this has significant impact. Many devices used in nuclear or military facilities are completely isolated from the network – in the hopes of making them hack proof. But this technique sidesteps that rather rigorous layer of protection.

The company, Red Balloon Security, infected a laser printer with malware, the software then manipulated how the printer’s chips emitted energy so that its electromagnetic radiation acted as a transmitter.

Luckily, as high tech as that sounds, there is a distinctly low tech way to detect such an incursion. How? Simply turn on an AM radio which will play those signals in the form of loud beeps.

Immortality – can it ever be achieved?

Some want to live forever, others just a good long time. Both may be possible, at least according to controversial research from Aubrey de Grey from the SENS Research Foundation.

The idea is that aging comes from damage done to the cells and molecules that form the human body. Prevent or reverse this damage, and the very aging process is reversed. Reversing appears to be the more difficult proposition, and this is where de Grey focuses the research.

“My main focus is on rejuvenation: that is, the active repair of the various types of molecular and cellular damage which eventually cause age-related disease and disability, as opposed to the mere retardation of the accumulation of such damage,” he explained.

We have made gobs of progress and in some places with the result of life expectancy growning by more than a decade. Much of this is because we are doing a better job controlling infectious diseases, but this can only take us so far.

“There’s almost one thing that kills everybody now in the developed world. It’s the accumulation of these various types of molecular and cellular damage that the body does to itself as a side effect of just being alive at all,” de Grey said.

The answer? Vaccines, stem cells, gene therapy and a new family of regenerative medicine.

Will the iPad grow more PC features?

The iPad was pretty cool when it came out, but the limitations soon became obvious. I’m not sure how many times I’d see someone using an iPad in a meeting, only to see a laptop sticking out of their briefcase. The iPad has to do cartwheels to do half the things a PC can do easily.

That may be one reason that tablet sales are slowing, and the numbers have one analyst predicting Apple, while not transforming the iPad into a PC, will give it more PC-style features.

This prediction came from Carolina Milanesi, chief of research for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, in an interview with ComputerWorld. “If there’s something that is as powerful as a PC but at the same time, agile like a tablet, consumers will be interested,” she argues.

The secret sauce behind that strategy is the upcoming iOS 9 that can be used in split screen mode, and could drive a new family of fuller size tablets more appropriate for productivity use.

I’ve long felt that Apple should build a hybrid PC/tablet the way Microsoft has done with Surface, but Apple prefers the two distinct systems – the Mac and the iPad.

But it looks like things aren’t going to change anytime soon. Apple’s Tim Cook has publicly derided the hybrid concept. Nor is Milanesi a fan. “2-in-1 sounds like you’re compromising something,” she told ComputerWorld.

I humbly disagree. With Surface, you have a full PC with no compromise, and a tablet that may not be as polished as the iPad, but certainly doesn’t lack useful features.

Firefox users – file stealing hack means you must patch now!

Mozilla is warning Firefox users to install the latest version which patches a serious file stealing flaw. The news was disclosed in a blog by Daniel Veditz, Mozilla security lead.

The organization quickly wrote a patch and made it part of the latest build, version 38.1.1.  The rush should be on since the flaw is already in the process of being exploited. The exploit purloins files via JavaScript and sends them off to the Ukraine.

“[On] August 5, a Firefox user informed us that an advertisement on a news site in Russia was serving a Firefox exploit that searched for sensitive files and uploaded them to a server that appears to be in Ukraine,” explained Veditz.

This morning Mozilla released security updates that fix the vulnerability. All Firefox users are urged to update to Firefox 39.0.3. The fix has also been shipped in Firefox ESR 38.1.1,” Veditz wrote.

He continued by explaining that the  exploit leaves no trace on the system so if you use Firefox on Windows or Linux it might be a good idea to change any passwords or keys in programs listed here.

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