The rotating three-digit security code on the back changes every hour, making it almost impossible for anyone without the card to use it.
Imagine a world without credit card fraud. Impossible, you might say. And you’d probably be right. But any effort to rein it in helps.
Every time your bank card is cloned or skimmed from an ATM or by scammer, or stolen from a website or a phishing attack, your credit card is wide open for a thief to use until you catch on and cancel it.
That might soon be a thing of the past, thanks to one technological advancement: A credit card with a rotating security code.
The credit card, dubbed Motion Code, contains a small display in the reverse of the card across the signature strip which randomly generates the card’s new security code — the card verification value (CVV) — every hour, according to The Memo, which spoke to the company, Oberthur Technologies. This makes the card useless for any thief who has the card’s number without the new CVV.
The downside for the user is that they will have to enter the auto-generated security code every time they make a purchase. Bad news for anyone who’s memorized the numbers on their card.
It’s not the only downside, though. The card will prevent online credit card fraud, but won’t help if a thief steals your physical credit card. (My million-dollar idea? Every credit card should come with the owner’s photo. There, you can have that one for free.)
Two major French financial institutions, Société Générale and Groupe BPCE, are readying the cards for a wider rollout. Poland has already seen some successes with the cards in a separate trial.
If all goes well, a trial may be on the cards with a UK bank soon.
NEW YORK — Emma Moore could have been the health and weight loss guru you spent your life looking for.
You might be forgiven for not knowing her work — after all, she has a common name, one that she shares with other similarly successful authors on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of health, dieting, cooking, and weight loss ebooks to her name. She published over a dozen ebooks on Amazon this year — five ebooks alone this month. And Moore would even work with other authors — like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson — who have all published about a dozen ebooks each this year as well.
Here’s the snag: to our knowledge, Moore doesn’t exist. None of them do.
Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated “catfishing” scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinked Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which were boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers.
Catfishing isn’t new — it’s been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system.
Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work — especially one that’s been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance.
Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon’s shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags.
What eventually gave him away weren’t customer complaints or even getting caught by the bookseller. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server.
Shershnyov is a former engineer turned “entrepreneur”.
He spent a little over 10 years working as a software development engineer for various companies, including Microsoft. He went on to co-found a startup, Alteroxity, which claims to help authors publish ebooks that are already “done for you” — that includes the writing, the creation, the publishing, and even “dozens of honest positive reviews”.
The company appears genuine, according to public records, but its main source of sales is Shershnyov’s catfishing scheme. To date, it’s generated over $3 million in revenue.
Alteroxity’s other co-founder, Alex Gorov, doesn’t exist. Until recently, Gorov purported to offer an online course promising to spill secrets on what he learned “from publishing over 2,000 titles on Kindle”. We later found that the photo on Alteroxity’s website was taken from a stock image site.
We were left to conclude that Shershnyov was the sole organizer of the scam.
For two years, Shershnyov has run a powerful and complex database, which was hosted on an Azure instance by Microsoft.
That database, found by the MacKeeper Security Research Center, was the brains behind the scam, but it was left open for anyone to peek in — if they knew where to look. MacKeeper security researchers did just that, sparking our investigation, which led to Shershnyov’s scam unravelling.
Here’s what we found.
Each of the 18 tables in the database plays an important role in the scam.
Over the past two years, the database has stored data on 1,453 low-quality ebooks. Most have been written in just a few days for a few dollars, covering topics that are extremely mundane or flat-out bizarre: anything from an ebook on understanding non-verbal communications, to a guide on how to stop procrastinating, and even a boxset on herbal, homemade antibiotic lotions. Each book was hastily written and littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes.
These books were associated with a publisher’s email account used to collect royalties on all the ebook and physical books that were sold. (Shershnyov used his own personal email address, along with other accounts.) Each account was responsible for publishing hundreds of ebooks. If one account was caught or disabled, it wouldn’t upend the entire scheme.
These accounts worked together to artificially inflate the number of ebooks downloaded, thus raising the ranking of each ebook in Amazon’s charts. That visibility helped to draw in real readers.
The server hosted a table containing 83,899 fake Amazon accounts (an easy feat given that, when we checked, Amazon doesn’t verify email accounts). At any given time of the day, dozens of those accounts could be pushed through one of over 200 proxy servers — provided by a third-party internet company — which makes it harder for Amazon to detect the logins. The server installed the Selenium web driver, a browser automation tool, which simulates a real person typing in the accounts’ usernames and passwords, one after the other.
Not all logins will be successful. Some are blocked or banned. If that happens, the table would log the the failure, and move on to the next account.
The fake accounts would download hundreds of these ebooks over a short period of time — usually a few hours. Each promoted ebook can be offered for free for a short period of time, allowing the downloads to run at no additional cost. Free books don’t generate royalties, but they do help to raise an ebook’s visibility in the Amazon charts.
An author who didn’t want to be named for the story said that the visibility can drive paid sales, earning the publisher money.
“Once a book is visible on Amazon due to being free it can benefit from increased interest. That increased interest and visibility doesn’t just go away once the book goes back to its original price,” explained the author.
The downloads would be tunneled over the Tor anonymity network, masking the IP addresses of the server, making it tougher for Amazon’s systems to spot the fraudulent downloads.
It can take just a few days for an ebook to rise up the charts and increase visibility — these books can easily reach the Top 100 list, particularly in niche categories.
That visibility could drive dozens of genuine downloads per day. Some reach the hundreds of sales, which can drive thousands of dollars in royalties. Imagine that on a far larger, automated scale — and those royalties begin to add up.
MILLIONS IN MONTHS
There are a lot of four-letter words to describe Shershnyov. One springs to mind: “rich”.
On a small scale, each ebook can generate anything from a few cents to hundreds of dollars over the course of its life span — until Amazon figures out that the book is a fraud. Fraudulent books get pulled offline quickly but often reappear under a different title, cover, and author’s name.
“But, you have to keep it going or you’ll drop like a rock. Amazon’s algorithm is very sensitive to fluctuations so if the momentum isn’t maintained you can drop off fast,” the author said.
Even if that momentum is maintained over a few days for each ebook, each little boost adds up.
Once the royalties (and refunds, rarely) begin to trickle in, the transactions are recorded in Amazon’s sales and royalties reports. Shershnyov’s royalty report showed that itemized revenues from the 11 master accounts generated $2.44 million since June 2015, which is when Amazon changed the terms in which authors were paid based on the number of books loaned. (It’s not known what was made during the six months prior to that, which was when the scam began.)
The scheme also generated $83,340 in physical book sales since early March 2016.
Shershnyov was so successful with his scheme that he created near-identical databases for his girlfriend, Anna Mandryko, a former investment advisor.
Amazon isn’t happy. After all, it’s not the company’s first rodeo with scammers.
A spokesperson for Amazon said on Tuesday: “All titles related to this issue have been removed, and we’re evaluating all our legal options against the perpetrators.” (We should note that in our checks, a handful of titles still exist on the site but only as physical book sales.)
The company has spent years knocking out one catfishing scam after another — those whocreate phony ebooks, to others selling fake reviews. This year Amazon filed three separate lawsuits in the past year targeting more than 1,000 alleged fake reviewers. A handful of review-selling sites have closed, while others persist.
But online stores are faced with headaches in shutting these scams down.
Shershnyov broke both Amazon’s terms of service — and likely Microsoft’s by hosting the database. (Microsoft declined to comment for this story.) But as far as we can tell, he hasn’t broken the law.
Writing a book under a pen name, or even outsourcing the work to a third-party, isn’t a crime. We found two people who had contracted work by Shershnyov on Fiverr, a marketplace for outsourcing work, but they did not respond to our questions about the nature of the work.
Sites that offer fake reviews services and even private scams that have complex systems designed to pump sales for profit likely won’t face criminal charges, even if they do violate the terms of service for the marketplaces that they operate in.
Shershnyov was caught and his scheme is over — for now. Amazon faces a constant battle against these schemes, not least overcoming technical hurdles that aim to catch these kinds of scammers in their tracks.
But given how quickly scams can alter and evolve, Shershnyov could be back in a week or a month, pulling the same old tricks under a different name.
For many, using wearable technology like an Apple Watch or a Fitbit is a little luxury which provides extra convenience when doing exercise or daily tasks.
But that’s only scraping the surface of what wearable devices have the potential to achieve, and researchers and scientists are using technology for projects from harnessing big data to help diagnose and treat disease to using smartphones and Bluetooth beacons to transform travel for the blind.
One research project involves researchers at Lancaster University working in partnership with the charity Autism Initiatives UK to build connected devices to help people living with autism, a developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. People living with autism can be susceptible to extreme anxiety and social awkwardness.
Today autism is generally diagnosed in childhood, but the condition wasn’t so well understood in the past, and as a result, adults on the autism spectrum have often lacked support — especially those with high-functioning autism who hadn’t been recognised as living with the condition until recently. It’s these people Lancaster University’s wearable device-based Clasp project looks to help.
The first incarnation of the project saw a game controller repurposed as a ‘digital squeezeball’ for the user to squeeze when they feel anxious. Data from those interactions was recorded using a companion app and the information later used to find out what caused the anxiety and when it happened.
“If there was a long squeeze, that would mean they were anxious and a message would be sent and the app would have picked up on that. Also, as part of the app, we had a social network system — whenever a person shared their location or state of anxiety with the group, the information was collected,” says Ferrario.
However, this initial stage of the project stumbled because “people didn’t feel with comfortable about sharing data about where they were most vulnerable with people they didn’t know or didn’t trust,” she says.
The research team took these lessons and used them to develop a new system of more customisable wearable devices. The team also realised that the squeezeball wasn’t the best sort of connected device to use to record interactions.
“We found that the squeezeball didn’t suit many people — it was a bit awkward with the communication, and the size and shape of it was an issue,” said Dr Will Simm, research associate at the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster and technical lead of Clasp.
The second iteration of the project was designed in such a way that people could customise it to use in a manner they deemed to be the most appropriate for them.
“We came up the idea of a toolkit of components which could be put together with their own personalised sensors, their own location for wearing it for their own characterisation of anxiety,” says Simm.
One of the first prototypes was a wristband made up with a central computing pod designed to allow the user to customise the sensors attached to it.
“We wanted to make them as available and customisable as possible, so we used techniques like 3D printing and an open source environment to programme it, with the intention of being able to customise it further and build their own device,” says Simm.
Researchers quickly learned that people would use the device in different ways — such as wrapped around their wrist, tied to a belt loop, or carried in their hand — and then tug or squeeze on it when they were happy or anxious. Those actions generate data which is transferred to a computer via Bluetooth whenever the user meets with a researcher, who helps them analyse the situation which triggered the response.
“We highlight the times they’ve been using it and discuss what situation they were in. It helps to reveal some different layers about their experience of anxiety,” says Simm, adding that some people said it helped them understand their anxieties more.
Users’ interactions with the device were captured digitally then displayed to them on a data visualisation platform, to help them to identify and understand why they get more anxious at a certain time and discuss the potential causes with researchers’ support.
“People with autism tend to have a positive outlook on life but they don’t tend to recall the exact timings of things which happened; the visualisation really helps as an anchor,” says Simm.
Sending a signal about feeling anxious through the wearable device allows the user to express their feelings without verbalising them.
“Physical interactions manifest a state beyond verbalisation, especially moments of anxiety, which can be a very abstract concept as well as being a very overwhelming state of mind. Verbalisation is quite difficult and through this kind of interaction it can help,” says Ferrario.
While users sitting down with support and discussing why they were feeling anxiety allows the researchers who analyse data in the long run, this connectivity also brought immediate benefits to some users who viewed wearing the device as helpful in itself.
“By being anxious but knowing that it was being recorded by the device, that was enough for them to break out of that anxiety state. Formerly when they became anxious, there was no release, but by just interacting with the device knowing its being recorded allows them to move on,” says Simm.
Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang apparently hand-delivered a DGX-1 to OpenAI researchers last week in San Francisco, Calif. Dubbed an “AI supercomputer-in-a-box”, the DGX-1 will be used by the non-profit research team to explore the challenges surrounding artificial intelligence.
The idea is to find ways OpenAI can use the supercomputer as it works on projects like artificial personal assistants, autonomous cars, and robots for the everyman.
Debuted earlier this year, Nvidia describes the DGX-1 system as the first deep learning supercomputer that’s built for artificial intelligence. The supercomputer is meant to be turnkey and match the computing power of 250 x86 servers.
Nvidia claims that the DGX-1 will enable researchers and data scientists to better use GPU. The DGX-1 includes Nvidia’s GPU training system, deep learning software, as well as libraries to design neural networks.
As for OpenAI, the Elon Musk and Peter Thiel-backed non-profit research company was founded last year on a mission of advancing artificial intelligence in ways that will broadly benefit humanity. But its researchers say they have been limited by the computational power of their hardware and that in order for AI to truly advance, GPUs need to be really, really fast.
“The DGX-1 is a huge advance,” said OpenAI Research Director Ilya Sutskever. “It will allow us to explore problems that were completely unexplored before, and it will allow us to achieve levels of performance that weren’t achievable.”
One of the applications OpenAI’s researchers have in mind for the DGX-1 is a process called “generative modeling”, which uses data to generate appropriate responses in machines to make them behave more intelligently.
“You can take a large amount of data that would help people talk to each other on the internet, and you can train, basically, a chatbot, but you can do it in a way that the computer learns how language works and how people interact,” said OpenAI Research Scientist Andrej Karpathy.
One way to really make your presentations shine, especially if you’re dealing with a technologically savvy topic, is to use some of the latest gadgets and gizmos available to prop up your overall message. You’d be surprised how much easier and more efficient certain topics are to talk about if you have some extras keeping the flow of the presentation going smoothly.
Specifically, you want to get the presentation format tightened down first, then pick which gadgets you’re going to use, make sure transitions are seamless, record and review how your performance is going to go, and then use the feedback to adjust and keep repeating gas necessary.
Get the Presentation Format Right First
Without proper knowledge of how presentations work, though, no matter what gadgets you throw into the mix, the whole thing can turn into a disappointing mess. So, before you go adding technology to the equation, be sure to just have the content and structure of your presentation down pat first. This may take a few weeks of heavy reading to really get the details well-formed in your mind, but the effort will be well worth it.
Choose Your Gadgets Wisely
Now, which gadgets do you intend on using? Perhaps a phone or a tablet to control various visuals? Or maybe some type of a lighting controller based on MIDI signals, or even audio-responsive gear? Decide what types of technology are going to fit within your presentation structure that help the focus (you’re not trying to distract people, here) and then choose the ones that make the most sense for your medium, your audience, and your ultimate goal or intent.
Test the Flow
And now that you have your format set, your content ready, and your gadgets chosen, it’s time to see if you can stitch them all together into something cohesive. The wrong time to test all of these things together is while you’re in front of your final audience. That is the stuff of nightmares, where everything that can go wrong – will.
Record and Review the Result
So, during a practice session, record yourself doing your presentation, and then review the result. You may get to practice a particular speech or proposal a dozen times before you’re entirely comfortable with the way that it comes out. The more practice, the better, and the more time you have to troubleshoot your equipment as well.
Adjust and Carry On Smartly
After you have recorded and reviewed your set piece, adjust the parts that don’t fit. Tighten down the unnecessary details. Figure out how to inject energy into the important parts. Add more details in if you feel like the audience may be left with questions. And keep doing this until you’re as close to perfect as you can get.
Using Your Mobile Device To Help Eliminate Your Addictions
At some point in many people’s lives, there will be some aspect of addiction to deal with. It could be on a personal level, it might be with a family member, or it could even be work related. But, one positive aspect of the mobile, technological, and gadget-driven revolutions that are present is the fact that common devices can now be used for purposes of addiction recovery, simply due to information flow and application availability.
Consider the following five ways that you can use mobile devices to help eliminate addiction issues, including finding resources that list signs and symptoms, getting apps that help you with bad habits, keeping people connected with support groups, accessible inspiration, and even something like shock treatment for another route of support.
Find Resource That List Signs and Symptoms
With nothing more than a mobile phone and an internet connection, right now you can search for a few words relating to addiction, and you’ll immediately be sent to a site with signs and symptoms organized neatly and succinctly for you. There doesn’t have to be a confusion of information anymore about addiction issues, as it’s constantly being updated as well.
Get Some Habit Apps
There a many habit apps for you to try as well that can help you combat addictions. And these addictions might be everything from just cleanliness habits to hard core drug use. The right apps allow you to customize sets of reminders about what you want to be doing or not, and the automated aspect of them means that you can concentrate on other things in the meantime.
Keep Your Support Group On Speed Dial
In some cases, you need nearly instant access to a sponsor or counselor. With your mobile phone, you can be one touch away from these contacts. In the past, addiction recovery was much more difficult simply because communication with people was far less convenient. Now there is no excuse for not being able to get ahold of the right people at the right time.
Use It For Inspiration
Sometimes all you need to help you through addiction is the right external inspiration on hand as well. There are thousands and thousands of websites and resources dedicated to providing you inspiration stories, information, quotes, pictures, and video all to suit that purpose exactly.
Try the Shock Treatment
And there are physical means to help you with addiction as well, that are connected to your mobile device. There are a few interesting choices regarding bracelets that give you a short shock when you register that you’ve done something that you don’t want to do. It takes a little self-reporting, but has high success ratings from people who use them accordingly.
Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.
As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We’ll have to figure out how to fight that tendency.
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Making Communication Tech Work For You: Professionally And Personally
Ah, communication technology – it’s the most amazing thing in the world, keeping everyone connected and webbed together in the tightest of nets. When it works. But that’s one of the things about the advancement of gadgets and gizmos when it comes to communication specifically – it takes some time to adapt to, and there’s always going to be a learning curve involved. And that goes for both professional and personal use.
Think about a few generations of your family, for instance. Grandparents may be completely comfortable with landlines, a bit more hesitant about cell phones, unsure of smartphones, and completely uncomfortable with video chats. But now teenagers don’t even know how to plug landline phones into the wall, and don’t know anyone’s phone numbers anyway.
And think about businesses. How efficient are answering machines really? Now what would it take to open up the possibility of people being able to text or SMS orders, questions, or troubleshooting matters in to bosses or employees? Where do those comfort zones sit? So essentially, no matter who you are or what you do, the faster you learn to adapt and make all of your options work for you, the better off you’ll be with respect to the entire spectrum of personal and professional communication. Consider some of the following ways to handle certain communication structures.
Full-On Business Solutions
For major business with lots of communication traffic between multiple sources and the need for things like video teleconferencing, there are solutions like hiring a Cisco distributor to handle all of your infrastructure needs. These types of solutions are going to involve heavy IT work, software installations, hardware configurations, and a whole lot of personalization along the way. But when the process is complete, the idea of communication to anyone anywhere in any format is a real possibility. Think about the increase in efficiency and productivity when a company is truly connected at the full range of possibilities – that’s when modern tech is really working for you.
Personal Communication Applications
And then, on a personal level, think about what the modern options are for you. Specifically when it comes to the closest thing to personal interaction, a one-on-one video chat is going to be the best thing ever. You can install Skype and have this for free, once you learn how to use it and make sure that user names and network configurations are in place properly. In fact, with modern setups, these setups are almost automatic, so even older generations of people should have no problem expanding their comfort zones. With just a webcam and a Wi-Fi signal, communication is your audio-visual best friend!
Mobile Connection Potential
And communication mobility is changing the world as we speak. A full generation of kids have been using smartphones as long as they can remember, and that idea of being constantly able to connect both to the internet and to specific people (think parents, employers, teachers, groups of friends) means that perpetual contact is available. There’s lots of complaining about people not being connected with the world immediately around them, and this is part of the growing pain of the human mind trying to find a balance with these new communication possibilities.
Non-Real Time Options
Another aspect of new communication tech available with today’s gadgets and devices is non-real time potential. In other words, you can leave messages or stories in a chronological format, always as an option, but the message doesn’t go through immediately. There are ways to do this through apps like Facebook, Periscope, Snapchat, and many others, where communication is omnipresent, but scheduled.
Work With Read Receipts
And finally, do make new communication tech work for you in all aspects of your life, consider working with read receipts as much as possible. This means that communication is time-stamped when it’s created, when it’s sent, when it’s received, and when it’s interacted with. Having this trail of digital data means that there aren’t any surprises about what kind of message was sent when, and if it was received by the party on the other end. There are both social and professional benefits of this type of logging.
A small milestone: the first post in my name on the Mozilla Net Policy blog has just been published. It concerns our filing comments for a US Copyright Office consultation on section 512 of the DMCA – the section dealing with safe harbo(u)rs for intermediary liability. Section 512 contains the rules that mean Facebook, Twitter and other platforms actually let you have a conversation and upload images and videos to talk about, rather than restricting that capability because they are too afraid of immediate copyright liability.
This is not to be confused with section 1201 of the DMCA, which gives the rules for the 3-yearly process for getting DMCA exceptions for important things like phone unlocking. We also filed comments in a consultation on that recently.
We hope that the Copyright Office’s recent attention to these sections bodes well for useful reforms to US copyright law.