Data centres face backlash over energy usage. Hashtag Trending for Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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Half of internet traffic may be generated by bots. Data Centres are facing a backlash as they fail to deliver enough jobs and place strain on energy infrastructure.  11 Labs struggles to defend against deep fake voices. An almost unstoppable spyware targets IoS devices.

All this and more on the “is anything we can count on” edition of Hashtag Trending. I’m your host, Jim Love. Let’s get into it.

According to a new report, bots now account for nearly half of all internet traffic globally. The cybersecurity firm Imperva found automated accounts made up 49.6% of online activity in 2023, up 2% from the previous year and the highest level since tracking began in 2013.

In some countries like Ireland, the situation is even more stark, with bots responsible for 71% of web traffic there. The rise is being attributed in part to the growing adoption of AI language models and generative AI tools that rely on web-scraping bots to gather training data.

The proliferation of bots online has already caused issues for platforms like Twitter, now called X, which has been inundated with spam bots advertising pornography and other services. Owner Elon Musk recently announced paid verification would be required to post content as a way to limit automated accounts.

As AI capabilities advance, the report’s authors warn quote “bots will become omnipresent” on the internet. This has fueled concerns around the “dead internet theory” – that automated content is overtaking the online world previously dominated by human users and interactions.

Sources include: The Independent

The U.S. data center industry is booming, with global demand for digital storage and computing forcing a rapid expansion of these massive facilities across the country. But some local and regional news sites are reporting their ravenous appetite for electricity is causing several states to pump the brakes on incentives and rethink their embrace of data centers.

Across the US there is a growing controversy over data center growth and their massive energy demands. Several U.S. states are rethinking the generous tax breaks and incentives they’ve offered to attract these facilities as concerns mount over strains on the electrical grid and hindrances to clean energy goals.

In Virginia, home to the world’s largest concentration of data centers, lawmakers are studying how these power-hungry operations are affecting electric reliability and affordability for residents.

One state delegate warns there’s no way to power the planned data center expansion without substantial increases to power infrastructure and generation capacity, with rippling effects far beyond where the centers are located.

In South Carolina, there’s debate over whether data centers should continue receiving discounted utility rates given how much electricity they consume.

And in Georgia, legislators have temporarily halted the state’s tax incentive program for new data centers, with one critic saying the return on investment “is not there.”

Sources include: Fauquier Now

According to a story in Wired, Apple has sent alerts to iPhone users in over 150 countries warning they have been targeted by sophisticated spyware attacks trying to compromise their devices. The latest wave appears linked to “LightSpy” spyware from China that can exfiltrate private data like location, recordings, messages and more.

Spyware like LightSpy and Pegasus from NSO Group can infect phones through what are termed “zero-click” attacks that don’t require user interaction. Malicious code gets silently planted when receiving an iMessage or other messaging app file that exploits software vulnerabilities.

Once installed, spyware operates stealthily in the background, granting attackers complete access to the device’s data and sensors. It’s extremely difficult to detect and remove.

Nation-states have, in the past, targetted spyware use against specific people like dissidents and journalists, the consequences of these surveillance implants are dangerous for anyone’s privacy and security.

Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s wife, Hanan Elatr, was allegedly targeted with the Pegasus spyware before his death.

Pegasus has also been used to target pro-democracy protesters in Thailand, Russian journalist Galina Timchenko, and UK government officials.

But for anyone wanting to steal the most sensitive corporate or personal information, these tools may prove irresistible. They are currently in the hands of a few companies, but the fact that they exist will certainly lead others to attempt to duplicate this software.

To reduce risk, experts advise keeping your iPhone updated, avoiding unknown links/attachments, and considering steps like disabling iMessage temporarily or using Apple’s Lockdown Mode which restricts certain functions. Ultimately, additional physical or software defences will have to be put in place to truly manage this threat in the future.

Signs that may indicate spyware infection include unusual battery drain, overheating, suspicious app appearances, and high data usage. However, professional assistance is often required for reliable detection and removal and some experts say it’s not possible.

Sources include: Wired

The artificial intelligence company ElevenLabs has unleashed powerful voice cloning software that can generate incredibly realistic audio simulating anyone’s voice. But as the London-based start-up has discovered, trying to control how this technology is used has proven extremely difficult.

ElevenLabs’ text-to-speech modeling allows users to type any words and have them spoken in a computer-generated voice that is a near-perfect clone of a real person’s manner of speaking.

The implications are vast – from helping disabilities communities to futuristic AI assistants. However, bad actors have already weaponized the software to create deceptive deepfake audios of public figures like celebrities and politicians saying things they never did.

In the lead-up to the 2024 New Hampshire primary, a Joe Biden voice clone was used in a robocall urging Democrats to stay home on election day, in what may have been a trial run for larger-scale electoral disinformation efforts.

Mati Staniszewski, the 29-year-old CEO of ElevenLabs, acknowledges this technology’s incredible potential for abuse. Quote: “We need to brace the general public that the technology for this exists.”

The start-up has tried to crack down through restrictions like banning uploads of celebrity voices and adding voice verification checks. But users have easily circumvented these safeguards.

In one instance, a reporter bypassed the celebrity voice ban simply by adding a minute of silence to the beginning of the upload file when trying to clone Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

And despite voice verification steps, a New Orleans magician claims he was able to generate the Biden robocall deepfake in under 20 minutes using ElevenLabs, easily tricking the system.

These incidents highlight how what one expert refers to as ElevenLabs’ “half-assed” safeguards, and how they have fallen short against determined misuse.

Staniszewski says the real solution is digitally watermarking all synthetic voices at creation, so civilians can detect deepfakes. However, this would require cooperation across the entire industry that has not yet materialized.

ElevenLabs is now focused on mitigation – scrambling to upgrade detection capabilities and human moderation to identify misuse before viral deepfakes can spread.

But skeptics question whether any safeguards can truly neutralize a technology that effectively dispenses believable human voices to anyone willing to potentially abuse that power as synthetic media tools grow more advanced.

Deepfakes generated by ElevenLabs could become a formidable threat to not just electoral integrity but to our trust in anything we see and hear online. Even its own creators seem uncertain about whether they can prevent their revolutionary innovation from being weaponized.

Sources include: The Atlantic

And a couple of other news bytes. Jack Dorsey has apparently left the the board of Bluesky, the new open source Twitter replacement that he founded over a year ago. Dorsey hasn’t announced why he left, although he apparently deleted his accounts some months ago. The board acknowledged his departure, thanking him and stating they will be looking for a replacement.

Dorsey is apparently back on Twitter/X and posted this on the weekend. “Don’t depend on corporations to grant you rights. defend them yourself using freedom technology. (you’re on one)”

Sources include: TechCrunch

Google is facing some controversy in its high stakes anti-trust suit in the US. The judge in the case criticized Google for an alleged policy of encouraging employees to disable chat histories and delete logs of discussions around “sensitive business practices.”  Judge Amit Mehtad did not mince words when addressing Google’s attorneys. Surprised that a major tech company would appear to deliberately destroy records Mehtad noted that “Google’s document retention policy leaves a lot to be desired,” during last Friday’s heated closing arguments.

Google denied the charges stating that there is “no proof” that the deleted records were relevant to the case. Without a doubt, we’ll be hearing more about this in the eventual judgement on this case. But it’s not the type of thing you want to hear from a judge in the closing of a case, especially one that is going to be adjudicated by that judge – this is not a jury trial. The judge will make the final ruling.

Sources include: TechSpot

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I’m your host Jim Love, have a Terrific Tuesday.

 

 

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