Police in Sandwell in the West Midlands recently discovered a warehouse that had been converted to an operation to illegally supply large quantities of electricity for Bitcoin mining.




Same Heat & Electricity Profile as a Cannabis Farm

The warehouse was raided by police after the heat generated, which had been spotted by the heat camera on a police drone, and the excessive electricity consumption appeared to show all the hallmarks of a cannabis farm.

The find, the second of its kind in the area, showed that criminals have adapted an existing money-generating model to tap into a technological rather than a biological fast money-making scheme that essentially cuts out the middlemen and delivers direct profit with fewer risks.


Illegal Electricity Supply

The criminals were found to have made an illegal connection to the electricity supply from Western Power in order to power the 100 computer units that were discovered in the warehouse.


Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin “mining” uses specialised Bitcoin computers that are constantly powered on and connected to the cryptocurrency network to verify transactions (sending and receiving of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency). This verification is achieved by the computers solving puzzles to prevent fraud and to win small amounts of Bitcoin. The whole process is extremely energy hungry. In fact, Researchers from Cambridge recently highlighted how Bitcoin mining consumes 21.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year, meaning that if Bitcoin were a country, its energy (electricity) consumption would be ranked above Argentina and the energy could power all the kettles in the UK for 27 years.


Three People Suspected

Three people, who were described by a witness (on the Birmingham Live website) as looking “a bit nerdy and dodgy” had apparently been noticed visiting the warehouse unit at the Great Bridge Industrial Estate, Tipton, at odd hours over the past 8 months. The warehouse unit was reported to have suspicious-looking wiring and ventilation ducts visible from the outside.


Bitcoin Mining Not Illegal

Although Bitcoin mining is not illegal, the way the criminals obtained the electricity for the operation, which was estimated to have used thousands of pounds worth of power does appear to have been illegal. Also, damage to the unit through its conversion to crypto-mining farm is yet to be assessed.


What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Criminals, particularly in the tech world, are always looking for scams and schemes that deliver maximum profit for minimum ongoing effort, whilst maintaining their anonymity and keeping their distance (often the other side of the world) from their crimes. This scheme shows how criminals have tried to be smart (in the technical sense) by using an existing idea (taking over a building and an electricity supply) to make a fast profit with middlemen from a currency that would be very difficult to trace back to them through the online technical route. Their mistakes, however, appeared to be that they failed to take account of elements in the real-world (i.e. the heat generated that could be spotted by police surveillance). Also, although they are likely to have made money by keeping their distance online but the wiring, setting up and monitoring of the warehouse meant that they had to remain physically too close to their crime, which in this case is the theft of electricity.


This story illustrates how tech-based criminals are finding ever-more creative and sophisticated ways to exploit opportunities and make money, and businesses should, therefore, focus on making their cyber-defences as robust as possible using tried and tested methods to stop any basic breaches, however creative the methodology.

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As part of Google’s latest security updates to Chrome and Android, users will not only be alerted if any of the passwords in their Password manager are compromised but will also be given the opportunity to make a quick fix.




Quick Fix – Change Password

In the ongoing competitive battle between Google’s Chrome browser (and its Android OS) and Apple’s equivalent, Google has released new security updates. Part of the updates to the Password Manager that’s built-in to Chrome and Android is the new quick-fix feature which will enable the Google Assistant to navigate to the compromised accounts and change passwords within seconds.

Benefits

Firstly, the fact that users are alerted when a password has been compromised is valuable because if users are made aware of a problem, they can quickly take action before more damage is done, rather than simply finding out after the event (e.g. stolen data or money) and/or the password being used by other attackers after being passed on/sold on.

Secondly, having a fast-track route to a quick fix through being offered a one-click ‘Change Password’ button means that users can minimise the amount of time that they are exposed to risk, and can quickly and conveniently change a password without having to go back to the site where it has been compromised, click on the forgot password/change password link, and go through a longer process that way.

Setting Up The Feature

The feature, which is powered by Google’s AI technology (since 2018) ‘Duplex’, is available to users who have turned “Safe Browsing” on and who are signed-in and syncing to Chrome.

On Android, for example, to receive alerts if any passwords have been compromised (e.g. in a data leak on a third-party website or app) navigating to the ‘Settings’ in Chrome and selecting ‘Privacy and security’ > ‘Safe browsing’ and tapping on ‘Standard protection’ gives users the option to switch “Warn you if passwords are exposed in a data breach” to on or off.

Users can also choose to check saved passwords themselves to see if any have been exposed in a data breach. Again, this can be done via ‘Settings’ in the Chrome app, by tapping ‘Passwords’ > ‘Check Passwords’.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is one of several new security features announced in answer to Apple’s recent iOS 14.5.1, and macOS 11.3.1 security updates, and specifically, is an answer to Apple introducing compromised password alerts with iOS 14. Clearly, being alerted and being able to check password compromises, and being able to change a password quickly and easily is likely to be very beneficial to users. Google also recently announced that it will soon be automatically enrolling its users in Two-Step Verification ‘2SV’ to improve the security of its services, but the future of authentication and verification is most likely to be ‘passwordless’ and based on biometrics. For example, last year, Google announced that users could verify their identity by using their fingerprint or screen lock instead of a password when visiting certain Google services (e.g. Pixel devices and all Android 7+ devices) due to Google’s collaboration with many other organisations within the FIDO Alliance and the W3C that led to the development of the FIDO2 standards, W3C WebAuthn and FIDO CTAP that allows fingerprint verification. Both Apple and Google may, therefore, be highlighting features based around more traditional security ideas now, but the direction of travel is away from passwords altogether.

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It has been reported that NYPD has cancelled its contract with the company that supplied its ‘robot dog’ after the robot’s militarised appearance increased tensions with civilians at a difficult time for police relations.


What Robot Dog?

The robot ‘dog’ nicknamed ‘Digidog’ was ordered last year by the NYPD from specialist robot company Boston Dynamics and was intended mainly for use in barricade and hostage situations, and as part of the Technical Assistance Response Unit, which is used for land-based (remote) surveillance. It has been reported that although 500 Boston Dynamics robot dogs have been deployed worldwide, the NYPD ‘dog’/robot is one of only four used by police departments. The others are used (e.g. by utility companies) on construction sites or in other (potentially dangerous) commercial settings. The four-legged, metal robot dogs can run, jump, climb stairs, balance, and are difficult to push over. They can also carry cameras, lights, and transmitters, and therefore, can be used for mobile surveillance. The robot dogs are guided by AI.


Old-Style Police Robots

Robots being used by police in situations that are too dangerous for humans are not unusual. For example, since the 1970s the NYPD has used robots in hostage situations, for bomb disposal, and for other hazardous tasks and challenges. The Boston Dynamics robot, however, is more sophisticated, capable, and dextrous than those early robots.


What Went Wrong With ‘Digidog’?

Digidog’s deployment to an incident in the Bronx, the footage of which was published online in February, appears to have caused alarm and criticism among members of the public. This alarm has been heightened by the recent high-profile incidents of police killings of black citizens, and the resulting protests. The footage of the robot following officers back, after the incident, has led to comparisons with fictional characters like the Terminator and Robocop, and has led to comments that the robot was ‘creepy’ and like something from a Dystopian future. Other criticisms have focused on worries that the deployment of such technology is too far ahead of regulation, whether it was wise or right to spend the money on a robot when the pandemic had squeezed finances. Some have also asked questions about whether spending on a robot should have been prioritised over the need for investment in the area of the city where it was filmed. A (Fox) news report of the Digidog deployment in the Bronx, which also highlights its potential benefits, can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24jufNhuUSI.


2016 in Dallas

The last time there was a serious outcry over a crime-fighting robot was back in 2016 when a gunman suspected of murdering five police officers was blown-up using a robot.


Cancelled

The public concern over Digidog is now reported to have led to NYPD cancelling its ($94,000) contract with Boston Dynamics which was not due to expire until August 2021.


‘Spot’ in Singapore

Boston Dynamics made the news back in May 2020 when a similar robot, dubbed ‘Spot’, was given a trial in Singapore’s Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park warning visitors to observe safe social distancing measures. Spot was allowed to roam the park, using its AI guidance system to avoid bumping into people and objects, and broadcasted a pre-recorded message about social distancing. A video of ‘Spot’ in action can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz7A8Umw5zY .


What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Robots are nothing new in business (e.g. the car industry, warehouses, and factories, even parcel delivery) and some robots even made the news for been used as mobile food distribution services on U.S. university campuses for students isolating during the first lockdown. Robots have also proven extremely useful in law enforcement and situations where the risk to humans is too great, e.g. bomb disposal, hostage incidents and more. This ‘Digidog’ robot, however, proved to be an example of deploying the wrong piece of machinery at the wrong time in the wrong place. The combination of a general deterioration in trust of the police (due to high profile killings of black citizens), deploying the ‘dog’ in a city area such as the Bronx, and the potentially threatening/creepy appearance of a four-legged metal (surveillance) robot proved to be too much. This, in turn, prompted uncomfortable questions and raised tensions to the point where the damage exceeded the benefits of the deployment of the robot. Public surveillance is a contentious issue on its own, and overt law enforcement tools and methods are also a matter of public interest, and the deployment of this robot brought the two together with the added fear of dystopian imagery. It begs the question of whether, if the robot has a ‘friendlier’ looking form (and didn’t walk on legs) it would have created so much interest and tension?


It is likely that more robots and drones will become commonplace and will fulfil productive, resource-saving, and day-to-day roles in ways that meet with public approval, but the sight of four-legged police robots, like a feared character from a sci-fi film, is something that the public may not yet be ready for and will not quietly accept. It is back to the drawing board for both the design of such robots and for those involved in ensuring that regulation, particularly of the use of AI (as is happening at the EC at the moment) keeps pace with its deployment.

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