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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

Aurich Lawson

This is the first in a two-part series exploring Butterfly Labs and its lineup of dedicated Bitcoin-mining hardware. In part one, we look at the company and the experiences customers have had with it. In part two, to be published on June 29, we share our experiences running a Bitcoin miner for a couple weeks. Spoiler alert: we made money.

The more I dig into Bitcoin, the stranger it gets. There’s gray-market online gambling and Russian-operated futures markets—to say nothing of the virtual currency’s wild ride over the last several months. It’s full of characters with names like “artforz” and “Tycho,” supposedly two of the largest Bitcoin holders out there. Of course, like most things Bitcoin, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure.

While reporting on a Bitcoin-based gambling story earlier this year, I interviewed Bryan Micon, who works with a Bitcoin-based poker site called Seals With Clubs. (To continue the lack of information, Micon won’t say who owns the site.) Micon has taken it upon himself to investigate what he believes are Bitcoin-related scams—such as the ill-fated Bitcoin Savings and Trust online bank—and he makes public pronouncements about them.

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar

Aurich Lawson / Jonathan Naumann / Joi Ito / Stanford CIS

Fifteen years ago, I was living outside Geneva, Switzerland, spending my lunch hours screwing around on the nascent Web a few dozen kilometers from where it was created. I popped into chat rooms, forums, and news sites, and I e-mailed family back home. I was learning French and getting my dose of tech news by reading the French-language edition of Macworld magazine. (Génial!)

I returned Stateside mere months after Ars began, reading more and more about the people behind many of the technologies that I was becoming increasingly fascinated with. I consumed just about every book I could find describing the history and personalities behind graphical user interfaces, networking, the Internet itself, and more.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all that, it’s that most people involved in technology continue the Newtonian tradition of humility. The most iconic innovators all seem to readily acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of giants. In fact, when I met Vint Cerf and thanked him for making the work I do possible, he was a predictable gentleman, saying, “There were many others involved in the creation of TCP/IP, not just me.”

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar


Stephen Balaban is a co-founder of Lambda Labs, based in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Cyrus Farivar

PALO ALTO, CA—Even while sitting in a café on University Avenue, one of Silicon Valley’s best-known commercial districts, it’s hard not to get noticed wearing Google Glass.

For more than an hour, I sat for lunch in late May 2013 with Stephen Balaban as he wore Google's new wearable tech. At least three people came by and gawked at the newfangled device, and Balaban even offered to let one woman try it on for herself—she turned out to be the wife of famed computer science professor Tony Ralston.

Balaban is the 23-year-old co-founder of Lambda Labs. It's a project he hopes will eventually become the “largest wearable computing software company in the world.” In Balaban's eyes, Lambda's recent foray into facial recognition only represents the beginning.

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Original author: 
Jon Brodkin

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

It's time to ask yourself an uncomfortable question: how many of your passwords are so absurdly weak that they might as well provide no security at all? Those of you using "123456," "abc123," or even just "password" might already know it's time to make some changes. And using pets' names, birth dates, your favorite sports teams, or adding a number or capital letter to a weak password isn't going to be enough.

Don’t worry, we're here to help. We’re going to focus on how to use a password manager, software that can help you go from passwords like "111111" to "6WKBTSkQq8Zn4PtAjmz7" without making you want to pull out all your hair. For good measure, we'll talk about how creating fictitious answers to password reset questions (e.g. mother's maiden name) can make you even more resistant to hacking.

Why you can’t just wing it anymore

A password manager helps you create long, complicated passwords for websites and integrates into your browser, automatically filling in your usernames and passwords. Instead of typing a different password into each site you visit, you only have to remember one master password.

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Original author: 
Dan Goodin


Thanks to the XKCD comic, every password cracking word list in the world probably has correcthorsebatterystaple in it already.

Aurich Lawson

In March, readers followed along as Nate Anderson, Ars deputy editor and a self-admitted newbie to password cracking, downloaded a list of more than 16,000 cryptographically hashed passcodes. Within a few hours, he deciphered almost half of them. The moral of the story: if a reporter with zero training in the ancient art of password cracking can achieve such results, imagine what more seasoned attackers can do.

Imagine no more. We asked three cracking experts to attack the same list Anderson targeted and recount the results in all their color and technical detail Iron Chef style. The results, to say the least, were eye opening because they show how quickly even long passwords with letters, numbers, and symbols can be discovered.

The list contained 16,449 passwords converted into hashes using the MD5 cryptographic hash function. Security-conscious websites never store passwords in plaintext. Instead, they work only with these so-called one-way hashes, which are incapable of being mathematically converted back into the letters, numbers, and symbols originally chosen by the user. In the event of a security breach that exposes the password data, an attacker still must painstakingly guess the plaintext for each hash—for instance, they must guess that "5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99" and "7c6a180b36896a0a8c02787eeafb0e4c" are the MD5 hashes for "password" and "password1" respectively. (For more details on password hashing, see the earlier Ars feature "Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger.")

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Original author: 
Peter Bright

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

In a bid to make JavaScript run ever faster, Mozilla has developed asm.js. It's a limited, stripped down subset of JavaScript that the company claims will offer performance that's within a factor of two of native—good enough to use the browser for almost any application. Can JavaScript really start to rival native code performance? We've been taking a closer look.

The quest for faster JavaScript

JavaScript performance became a big deal in 2008. Prior to this, the JavaScript engines found in common Web browsers tended to be pretty slow. These were good enough for the basic scripting that the Web used at the time, but it was largely inadequate for those wanting to use the Web as a rich application platform.

In 2008, however, Google released Chrome with its V8 JavaScript engine. Around the same time, Apple brought out Safari 4 with its Nitro (née Squirrelfish Extreme) engine. These engines brought something new to the world of JavaScript: high performance achieved through just-in-time (JIT) compilation. V8 and Nitro would convert JavaScript into pieces of executable code that the CPU could run directly, improving performance by a factor of three or more.

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Original author: 
Jon Brodkin


The Arduino Due.

Arduino

Raspberry Pi has received the lion's share of attention devoted to cheap, single-board computers in the past year. But long before the Pi was a gleam in its creators' eyes, there was the Arduino.

Unveiled in 2005, Arduino boards don't have the CPU horsepower of a Raspberry Pi. They don't run a full PC operating system either. Arduino isn't obsolete, though—in fact, its plethora of connectivity options makes it the better choice for many electronics projects.

While the Pi has 26 GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that can be programmed to do various tasks, the Arduino DUE (the latest Arduino released in October 2012) has 54 digital I/O pins, 12 analog input pins, and two analog output pins. Among those 54 digital I/O pins, 12 provide pulse-width modulation (PWM) output.

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Original author: 
Lee Hutchinson

Adrian (adiera1 on DeviantArt)

369 hours.

That's nine 40-hour work weeks of time spent in the Mass Effect universe, according to the combined reports of Steam, Origin, and my creaky old Xbox 360. Eighty-six hours went into the original Mass Effect (three playthroughs), 189 hours into Mass Effect 2 (six playthroughs), and 94 hours into Mass Effect 3 (three playthroughs).

Commander Shepard and his crew—sometimes her crew, but we'll get to that—have done plenty of galaxy saving under my control. They fought aliens, robots, clones, politicians, and reporters. They stood united against enemies vast and unknowably timeless. They have, in the words of James T. Kirk, "been through death and life together."

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Original author: 
Andrew Cunningham

Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Welcome back to our three-part series on touchscreen technology. Last time, Florence Ion walked you through the technology's past, from the invention of the first touchscreens in the 1960s all the way up through the mid-2000s. During this period, different versions of the technology appeared in everything from PCs to early cell phones to personal digital assistants like Apple's Newton and the Palm Pilot. But all of these gadgets proved to be little more than a tease, a prelude to the main event. In this second part in our series, we'll be talking about touchscreens in the here-and-now.

When you think about touchscreens today, you probably think about smartphones and tablets, and for good reason. The 2007 introduction of the iPhone kicked off a transformation that turned a couple of niche products—smartphones and tablets—into billion-dollar industries. The current fierce competition from software like Android and Windows Phone (as well as hardware makers like Samsung and a host of others) means that new products are being introduced at a frantic pace.

The screens themselves are just one of the driving forces that makes these devices possible (and successful). Ever-smaller, ever-faster chips allow a phone to do things only a heavy-duty desktop could do just a decade or so ago, something we've discussed in detail elsewhere. The software that powers these devices is more important, though. Where older tablets and PDAs required a stylus or interaction with a cramped physical keyboard or trackball to use, mobile software has adapted to be better suited to humans' native pointing device—the larger, clumsier, but much more convenient finger.

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Original author: 
Sean Gallagher

Original photo by Michael Kappel / Remixed by Aurich Lawson

Have a plan to steal millions from banks and their customers but can't write a line of code? Want to get rich quick off advertising click fraud but "quick" doesn't include time to learn how to do it? No problem. Everything you need to start a life of cybercrime is just a few clicks (and many more dollars) away.

Building successful malware is an expensive business. It involves putting together teams of developers, coordinating an army of fraudsters to convert ill-gotten gains to hard currency without pointing a digital arrow right back to you. So the biggest names in financial botnets—Zeus, Carberp, Citadel, and SpyEye, to name a few—have all at one point or another decided to shift gears from fraud rings to crimeware vendors, selling their wares to whoever can afford them.

In the process, these big botnet platforms have created a whole ecosystem of software and services in an underground market catering to criminals without the skills to build it themselves. As a result, the tools and techniques used by last years' big professional bank fraud operations, such as the "Operation High Roller" botnet that netted over $70 million last summer, are available off-the-shelf on the Internet. They even come with full technical support to help you get up and running.

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