Every school year, we run the European Astro Pi challenge to find the next generation of space scientists who will program two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, called Astro Pis, living aboard the International Space Station.
Italian ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli with the Astro Pi units. Image credit ESA.
Astro Pi Mission Zero
The 2017–2018 challenge included the brand-new non-competitive Mission Zero, which guaranteed that participants could have their code run on the ISS for 30 seconds, provided they followed the rules. They would also get a certificate showing the exact time period during which their code ran in space.
We asked participants to write a simple Python program to display a personalised message and the air temperature on the Astro Pi screen. No special hardware was needed, since all the code could be written in a web browser using the Sense HAT emulator developed in partnership with Trinket.
Students coding #astropi emulator to scroll a message to astronauts on @Raspberry_Pi in space this summer. Try it here: https://t.co/0KURq11X0L #Rm9Parents #CSforAll #ontariocodes
And now it’s time…
We received over 2500 entries for Mission Zero, and we’re excited to announce that tomorrow all entries with flight status will be run on the ISS…in SPAAACE!
There are 1771 Python programs with flight status, which will run back-to-back on Astro Pi VIS (Ed). The whole process will take about 14 hours. This means that everyone will get a timestamp showing 1 February, so we’re going to call this day Mission Zero Day!
Part of each team’s certificate will be a map, like the one below, showing the exact location of the ISS while the team’s code was running.
The grey line is the ISS orbital path, the red marker shows the ISS’s location when their code was running. Produced using Google Static Maps API.
The programs will be run in the same sequence in which we received them. For operational reasons, we can’t guarantee that they will run while the ISS flies over any particular location. However, if you have submitted an entry to Mission Zero, there is a chance that your code will run while the ISS is right overhead!
Go out and spot the station
Spotting the ISS is a great activity to do by yourself or with your students. The station looks like a very fast-moving star that crosses the sky in just a few minutes. If you know when and where to look, and it’s not cloudy, you literally can’t miss it.
Source Andreas Möller, Wikimedia Commons.
The ISS passes over most ground locations about twice a day. For it to be clearly visible though, you need darkness on the ground with sunlight on the ISS due to its altitude. There are a number of websites which can tell you when these visible passes occur, such as NASA’s Spot the Station. Each of the sites requires you to give your location so it can work out when visible passes will occur near you.
Visible ISS pass star chart from Heavens Above, on which familiar constellations such as the Plough (see label Ursa Major) can be seen.
A personal favourite of mine is Heavens Above. It’s slightly more fiddly to use than other sites, but it produces brilliant star charts that show you precisely where to look in the sky. This is how it works:
Mission Zero certificates will be arriving in participants’ inboxes shortly. We would like to thank everyone who participated in Mission Zero this school year, and we hope that next time you’ll take it one step further and try Mission Space Lab.
Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab are two really exciting programmes that young people of all ages can take part in. If you would like to be notified when the next round of Astro Pi opens for registrations, sign up to our mailing list here.
The Free Software Foundation Europe has joined several
organizations in publishing an open letter urging lawmakers
to advance legislation requiring publicly financed software developed for
the public sector be made available under a Free and Open Source Software
license. “The initial signatories include CCC, EDRi, Free Software
Foundation Europe, KDE, Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, openSUSE, Open
Source Business Alliance, Open Source Initiative, The Document Foundation,
Wikimedia Deutschland, as well as several others; they ask individuals and
other organisation to sign the open letter. The open letter will be sent to candidates for the German Parliament election and, during the coming months, until the 2019 EU parliament elections, to other representatives of the EU and EU member states.”
It’s hard to miss the increasing frequency of phishing attacks in the news. Earlier this year, a major phishing attack targeted Google Docs users, and attempted to compromise at least one million Google Docs accounts. Experts say the “phish” was convincing and sophisticated, and even people who thought they would never be fooled by a phishing attack were caught in its net.
What is phishing?
Phishing attacks use seemingly trustworthy but malicious emails and websites to obtain your personal account or banking information. The attacks are cunning and highly effective because they often appear to come from an organization or business you actually use. The scam comes into play by tricking you into visiting a website you believe belongs to the trustworthy organization, but in fact is under the control of the phisher attempting to extract your private information.
Phishing attacks are once again in the news due to a handful of high profile ransomware incidents. Ransomware invades a user’s computer, encrypts their data files, and demands payment to decrypt the files. Ransomware most often makes its way onto a user’s computer through a phishing exploit, which gives the ransomware access to the user’s computer.
The best strategy against phishing is to scrutinize every email and message you receive and never to get caught. Easier said than done—even smart people sometimes fall victim to a phishing attack. To minimize the damage in an event of a phishing attack, backing up your data is the best ultimate defense and should be part of your anti-phishing and overall anti-malware strategy.
How do you recognize a phishing attack?
A phishing attacker may send an email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem with your account. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts.
The image below is a mockup of how a phishing attempt might appear. In this example, courtesy of Wikipedia, the bank is fictional, but in a real attempt the sender would use an actual bank, perhaps even the bank where the targeted victim does business. The sender is attempting to trick the recipient into revealing confidential information by getting the victim to visit the phisher’s website. Note the misspelling of the words “received” and “discrepancy” as recieved and discrepency. Misspellings sometimes are indications of a phishing attack. Also note that although the URL of the bank’s webpage appears to be legitimate, the hyperlink would actually take you to the phisher’s webpage, which would be altogether different from the URL displayed in the message.
Top ten ways to protect yourself against phishing attacks
Always think twice when presented with a link in any kind of email or message before you click on it. Ask yourself whether the sender would ask you to do what it is requesting. Most banks and reputable service providers won’t ask you to reveal your account information or password via email. If in doubt, don’t use the link in the message and instead open a new webpage and go directly to the known website of the organization. Sign in to the site in the normal manner to verify that the request is legitimate.
A good precaution is to always hover over a link before clicking on it and observe the status line in your browser to verify that the link in the text and the destination link are in fact the same.
Phishers are clever, and they’re getting better all the time, and you might be fooled by a simple ruse to make you think the link is one you recognize. Links can have hard-to-detect misspellings that would result in visiting a site very different than what you expected.
Be wary even of emails and message from people you know. It’s very easy to spoof an email so it appears to come from someone you know, or to create a URL that appears to be legitimate, but isn’t.
For example, let’s say that you work for roughmedia.com and you get an email from Chuck in accounting ([email protected]) that has an attachment for you, perhaps a company form you need to fill out. You likely wouldn’t notice in the sender address that the phisher has replaced the “m” in media with an “r” and an “n” that look very much like an “m.” You think it’s good old Chuck in finance and it’s actually someone “phishing” for you to open the attachment and infect your computer. This type of attack is known as “spear phishing” because it’s targeted at a specific individual and is using social engineering—specifically familiarity with the sender—as part of the scheme to fool you into trusting the attachment. This technique is by far the most successful on the internet today. (This example is based on Gimlet Media’s Reply All Podcast Episode, “What Kind of Idiot Gets Phished?“)
Use anti-malware software, but don’t rely on it to catch all attacks. Phishers change their approach often to keep ahead of the software attack detectors.
If you are asked to enter any valuable information, only do so if you’re on a secure connection. Look for the “https” prefix before the site URL, indicating the site is employing SSL (Secure Socket Layer). If there is no “s” after “http,” it’s best not to enter any confidential information.
Avoid logging in to online banks and similar services via public Wi-Fi networks. Criminals can compromise open networks with man-in-the-middle attacks that capture your information or spoof website addresses over the connection and redirect you to a fake page they control.
Email, instant messaging, and gaming social channels are all possible vehicles to deliver phishing attacks, so be vigilant!
Lay the foundation for a good defense by choosing reputable tech vendors and service providers that respect your privacy and take steps to protect your data. At Backblaze, we have full-time security teams constantly looking for ways to improve our security.
When it is available, always take advantage of multi-factor verification to protect your accounts. The standard categories used for authentication are 1) something you know (e.g. your username and password), 2) something you are (e.g. your fingerprint or retina pattern), and 3) something you have (e.g. an authenticator app on your smartphone). An account that allows only a single factor for authentication is more susceptible to hacking than one that supports multiple factors. Backblaze supports multi-factor authentication to protect customer accounts.
Be a good internet citizen, and help reduce phishing and other malware attacks by notifying the organization being impersonated in the phishing attempt, or by forwarding suspicious messages to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected]. Some email clients and services, such as Microsoft Outlook and Google Gmail, give you the ability to easily report suspicious emails. Phishing emails misrepresenting Apple can be reported to [email protected].
Backing up your data is an important part of a strong defense against phishing and other malware
The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to be vigilant against suspicious messages and emails, but also to assume that no matter what you do, it is very possible that your system will be compromised. Even the most sophisticated and tech-savvy of us can be ensnared if we are tired, in a rush, or just unfamiliar with the latest methods hackers are using. Remember that hackers are working full-time on ways to fool us, so it’s very difficult to keep ahead of them.
The best defense is to make sure that any data that could compromised by hackers—basically all of the data that is reachable via your computer—is not your only copy. You do that by maintaining an active and reliable backup strategy.
Files that are backed up to cloud storage, such as with Backblaze, are not vulnerable to attacks on your local computer in the way that local files, attached drives, network drives, or sync services like Dropbox that have local directories on your computer are.
In the event that your computer is compromised and your files are lost or encrypted, you can recover your files if you have a cloud backup that is beyond the reach of attacks on your computer.
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