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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Infectious Friday

1 August 2014

Interesting things happening in the world of science, technology and such on this first Friday of August, 2014 are...

The dreaded Ebola has slipped the leash of geographical confinement and begun to spread over a much wider area than ever before.

It seems that new cases have been reported hundreds of miles away from the usual smoldering core of infection and there is worry (at least that's what the media is reporting) that this could be the start of something very bad.

Every few years the media rolls out the same old portent of doom as it reminds us of the very high fatality rate amongst those infected with this virus and warns that we have no vaccine or cure. Fortunately for the rest of the world, this disease seems to have such a brief incubation period and its symptoms are so acute that the usual pandemic scenario, where an unwitting sufferer boards an international flight to spread a fatal infection throughout the Western World, is unlikely to occur.

However, we must still be concerned that there has been such a dramatic spike in the number of reported infections and deaths, and that the area of infection has grown significantly in recent weeks.

But it's not just humans that are being infected with evil viruses at present...

According to this Arstechnica story all our USB-capable computing devices are at the mercy of stealthy malware that could be lurking in devices that have the USB standard interface.

When you think about it, this has to be just as much of a worry as Ebola.

Given the proven fact that China is hell-bent on hacking the world (cite: Iron Dome makers got hacked, says cybersecurity firm (CNN)), I have to wonder just how many of those low-cost, "made in China" USB memory devices come with an undocumented payload?

How easy would it be for the Chinese government to mandate that its manufacturers must include a tiny kernel of code which would effectively create a powerful back-door into any computing device to which the device was connected?

Forget about the profits that are to be made from selling such USB devices -- the *real* profits would come from the access this would give to a wealth of data from machines that are likely to be within huge corporations, governments or other organisations.

Does this help explain why the Chinese can sell you a 16GB flash drive for $10 including shipping -- when just a few decades ago, a 10MB hard drive cost near enough to $10K?

That's 1,600 times the storage for 1/1000th the price -- a bang per buck ratio that has improved by 1.6 million times in just 30 short years.

Are some of these USB devices just a highly subsidised way of opening (back) doors for China's commercial and political spies, I wonder?

As those Chinese say... we live in interesting times ;-)

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