TRICK AND TREAT: A recent survey found that workers were willing to give away computer passwords in return for a chocolate bar (the reward for completing the survey). Image: Courtesy of iStockphoto; Copyright: Pali Rao
Trick and treat: Workers divulge computer passwords for the promise of candy
Worried about someone stealing your identity? Hopefully you're more careful than our friends across the pond. Organizers of the Infosecurity Europe computer security trade show were alarmed to discover this week that 121 of 576 subway riders (21 percent) at London's Liverpool Street Station were prepared to reveal their computer passwords in return for a chocolate bar. The only comforting thing about the survey is that more people kept their mouths shut this time than they did last year when 64 percent of those polled were willing to part with their secret code in return for chocolate. It seems that women were most vulnerable on this score: 45 percent of women compared with 10 percent of the men surveyed gave up their passwords to researchers. "This research shows that it's pretty simple for a perpetrator to gain access to information that is restricted," says Claire Sellick, event director of Infosecurity Europe, set to begin in London on April 22, "by having a chat around the coffee machine, getting a temporary job as a [personal assistant] or pretending to be from the IT department." We hope the chocolate was good, at least.
Beware, dog and cat owners: a new study indicates that our beloved furry friends may contain high levels of toxic chemicals. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in Washington, D.C., found levels of flame retardants (used in fabrics and furniture) in kitties that were 23 times higher than in humans; it also found amounts of the potent neurotoxin mercury (likely from fish in pet foods), a carcinogen, in our purring pals at levels five times higher than in people. Our pooches didn't fare much better: EWG discovered perfluorinated compounds, which are used in stain and grease-proof coatings, at levels 2.4 times higher than in humans. Perfluorinated chemicals have been linked to liver damage and other problems. The research was based on blood and urine samples from 35 dogs and 37 cats at Hanover Animal Hospital in Mechanicsville, Va., collected in December and January. "This study shows that our pets are susceptible to the absorption of potentially harmful chemicals from our environment just as we are," said veterinarian John Billeter, who conducted the tests. "Perhaps even more troubling is that these chemicals have been found in higher levels in pets than in humans, implying potential harmful consequences for their health and well-being and the need for further study."
Maybe we should just ask for directions
It was music to the ears of the direction-challenged among us when Apple and Skyhook Wireless, Inc., cut a deal earlier this year that allowed owners of the newest crop of iPhones and iPods to use Skyhook's Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) to map their locations. The bad news: a new study indicates that the system is vulnerable to hackers who could manipulate it and send us astray. Under the Skyhook agreement, mobile phones and digital music players send information about wireless access points they detect to Skyhook computer servers, which in turn sends back data that enables users to pinpoint their positions. This is handy when you're looking for restaurants or shops—or if you're just plain lost. That is, unless some nogoodnik writes a malicious computer program that sends your handheld device false information, according to a group of computer science researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. The researchers were able to disrupt Skyhook's WPS system—which doesn't require access points on its network to prove their authenticity—by using little more than a laptop, a Wi-Fi access point transmitter, and a database of Wi-Fi access point locations. Let's hope Apple and Skyhook take precautions to prevent such disruptions before too many people are led astray!