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Out of control


Could a hacker hijack your connected car?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption What if your self-driving car took on a mind of its own?

As more carmakers adopt "over the air (OTA)" software updates for their increasingly connected and autonomous cars, is the risk of hacker hijack also increasing?

Imagine jumping in your car but being taken somewhere you didn't want to go – into oncoming traffic, say, or even over a cliff.

That may seem like an extreme scenario, but the danger is real.

Hackers showed two years ago that they could remotely take control of a Chrysler Jeep.

And earlier this year, Tesla boss Elon Musk warned about the dangers of hackers potentially taking control of thousands of driverless cars.

"I think one of the biggest concerns for autonomous vehicles is somebody achieving a fleet-wide hack," he said, speaking at a National Governors Association meeting.

"In principle, if someone was able to… hack all the autonomous Teslas, they could say – I mean just as a prank – they could say 'send them all to Rhode Island' – across the United States.

"And that would be the end of Tesla, and there would be a lot of angry people in Rhode Island."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tesla can update its cars' software wirelessly, but what are the risks?

Mr Musk insists that a kill switch "that no amount of software can override" would "ensure that you gain control of the vehicle and cut the link to the servers", thus preventing the Rhode Island scenario.

As cars become more sophisticated, incorporating semi-autonomous features such as lane keeping, automatic braking and self parking, and their "infotainment" systems are connected to the internet, the amount of software code needed to control these systems is ballooning.

Keeping all these software programs updated has typically required drivers to visit the dealership.

"For automakers and their customers alike, such repair-shop visits are a huge waste of time and money, and online updates can significantly reduce this," explains Dr Markus Heyn, board member of automotive electronics and processing supplier, Bosch.

So OTA updates give manufacturers the ability to respond quickly as problems arise. And fixing bugs this way is safer than sending out physical USB sticks – which is what Chrysler did to patch its Jeep.

Critics pointed out that criminals could have intercepted the USB sticks and sent out their own malware-infected versions instead.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Can you be sure your self-driving car is taking you where you want to go?

It's hardly surprising then that there are strong moves in the industry towards OTA updates, which mean that new features can be added, and bugs patched, in just an hour or two, all without inconvenience to the owner.

General Motors, for example, says it expects to be updating engine software using its OnStar network by the end of this decade, thanks to a new electrical architecture for its vehicles.

Meanwhile, Bosch is planning to start offering OTA updates through control units and in-car communication infrastructure developed in-house, distributing the updates via its "internet of things" (IoT) cloud.

Research consultancy IHS Markit estimates that by 2022, 160 million vehicles globally will have the capability to upgrade their onboard computer systems over the air.

Electric carmaker Tesla recently demonstrated the benefits of OTA updates when Hurricane Irma was threatening Florida early in September.

As people were warned they should evacuate, Tesla owners were given an unexpected and potentially life-saving freebie – an extra 45 miles of range.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Florida Tesla owners fleeing Hurricane Irma were given extra range via an over-the-air update

The ability to go further without a recharge was already built into the cars, but was unavailable to drivers until the company unlocked extra battery capacity.

"We have a certain number of cars which we sell at a 60kW [kilowatt] price point, but for reasons of manufacturing efficiency we install a 75kW battery, which people can upgrade," a spokeswoman explains.

"A customer wrote to us and asked if it would be possible to increase it temporarily as they were planning their route out of Florida."

Tesla unlocked the extra power by sending an OTA update to the cars via wi-fi or 4G.

But there's no doubt that OTA updates present a new set of risks.

For a start, we've all, at one time or another, attempted to update the software on our computer or phone, only for the process to go wrong.

An unusable car could be rather more of a problem than a "bricked" – or unusable – phone.

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In 2015, 15% of car recalls in the US were related to software errors, up from 5% four years before.

When an update fails it's automatically re-sent, but this doesn't always have the desired effect. On one occasion early last year, a Tesla software update designed to add an "autopilot" feature is believed to have affected the climate control of thousands of vehicles.

Then there is the risk of "man-in-the-middle" attacks – hackers intercepting the updates in transit.

This is why extra special care is taken over OTA updates, says Robert Moran, an expert in car connectivity and security at NXP Semiconductors.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption You wouldn't want hackers taking control of your car on this road…or any other for that matter

"There are checks at each stage of the update process," he says. "Updated software coming over the air is going to be received in parallel.

"Only once it's passed a number of security checks – Does it have validation? Is it from a trusted source? – is the new software actually used.

"It's at a different level to what we have with laptops today."

Manufacturers are also addressing the hacker threat by isolating the various systems in the car so that, for example, the radio is isolated from the steering wheel, the powertrain from the brakes – each system protected by its own encryption.

"Ultimately, as cars have become more connected, it does potentially create a bigger target," admits Mr Moran, "and hackers have always altered their techniques as technology changes."

But, he argues: "The fact that we can provide over-the-air updates is a security feature in itself, as it gives us the ability to respond and make changes."

Carmakers know that consumer trust is crucial, so security it paramount. The big question is whether they are cleverer than the hackers.

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No more privacy?


Is privacy dead in an online world?

Image copyright Getty Images

Last month, 145 million Americans discovered they were victims of one of the biggest data breaches in history, after the credit rating agency Equifax was hacked.

Social security numbers, birth dates, telephone numbers and, in some cases, driver's licence and credit card numbers were exposed, leaving people vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

Companies know more about individuals than they ever have. And almost every week there is news of a data hack.

So does this mean that the age of personal privacy is over?

BBC World Service's The Inquiry programme has been hearing the views of four experts.

'Database of ruin'

"Technology has created enormous conveniences for us, but there is no reason why those conveniences have to inevitably come at the cost of giving up our privacy wholesale," says Ben Wizner, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is chief legal adviser to the US intelligence leaker Edward Snowdon.

Mr Wizner says people should be able to control information held on them, as well as with whom they share it.

"It is now both technologically and financially feasible for corporations and governments to collect and store records of almost all of our activities, records that never would have existed in the past," he says.

All of this – whether harvested from the web, mobile phones or social media – creates vast amounts of data from consumers, held by corporations.

And with the advent of smart appliances, this will only increase.

Image copyright Getty Images

"You will be watching your television, your television will be watching you."

And he has concerns about agreements meant to safeguard consumers' data.

"It is literally impossible for consumers to read all of those agreements. What we all do instead is we click "agree". In legal terms, we have consented. In meaningful terms, have we consented?"

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Personal information, Mr Wizner says, allows corporations to make highly accurate predictions about a person's life, including their sexuality and any health problems they may have.

"I think that we hear all too often this sort of blase remark that 'I don't need to be worried about surveillance because I've done nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide.'

"For every single one of us, there is some pile of aggregated data that exists, the publication of which would cause us enormous harm and, in some cases, even professional and personal ruin.

"Every single one of us has a database of ruin."

The post-privacy economy

Former Amazon chief scientist Andreas Weigend says the time has come to recognise that privacy is now an illusion.

He grew up in West Germany, where his family moved following his father's release from prison in East Germany, where he had been a political prisoner.

Later, he discovered that, though his father's Stasi files had been destroyed, the secret police had opened a file on him, in 1986, when he was a graduate student in the US.

Though he felt vulnerable after this revelation, his views on privacy are clear.

"I have realised that even if you were a privacy zealot, you don't have a chance.

"Data is being created as we breathe, as we live, and it is too hard a battle to try to live without creating data.

"And that is a starting point: that you assume that we do live in a post-privacy economy."

Indeed, he has just written a book called Data For the People: How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You.

Image copyright Getty Images

Or daily lives, he says, constantly lead to the creation of new data: from phones, credit cards, public transport systems and more.

"I think we don't have the time in the day to know everything that's being created about us.

"On the other hand, we don't want companies to just scoop up all the data that we create and never tell us anything about it."

He believes we should embrace the fact we're creating lots of data, because we get better products and services in return.

"Every battle we should fight now is, 'And what can we, as individuals, as citizens, get out of the data which we create?'

"Having new technologies means that we need to think about what actually does 'privacy' mean. So, it's time to actually redefine privacy."

Image copyright Getty Images

But Mr Weigend isn't willing to let go of all privacy. There is "no way", for instance, he would publish his browsing history.

"I think our browsing histories are way more personal than what we share with our partners.

"Our most secret questions in our mind, our most secret desires, they end up at Google and where Google takes us."

His message to people concerned about privacy is simple.

"Think about your computer security, think about your passwords, think about just how lax, probably, your own personal security is."

And he believes that people's views on privacy will change, just as things have already changed.

"What the KGB wouldn't have gotten out of people under torture, now people knowingly and willingly publish on Facebook."

Naked on the net

Svea Eckert is an investigative reporter for Germany's national broadcaster, ARD. Last year she decided to adopt a fake name and set up a fake company, complete with its own website.

Her target? Detailed information showing which web pages individuals had visited, offered for sale by companies who gather data about people's internet use.

Image copyright Svea Eckert
Image caption Journalist Svea Eckert was able to view the internet browsing histories of about 20 people, all in high-profile positions in Germany

She and a colleague eventually gained access to a month's worth of de-anonymised browsing records of about 20 people, all in high-profile positions.

The URLs pointed to details of a criminal investigation, a senior executive's complete financial records, a judge's daily porn viewing habits and the browsing histories of politicians.

The subjects were shocked when shown the data held about them.

It emerged that all this data had come from a browser plug-in that these users had installed.

Ms Eckert says it wasn't legal for the data to be sold but there has been no action against the company selling it, because it was based outside the EU.

And she is concerned at how smaller marketing companies were able to sell this sensitive data but may not have had the money available to wealthy corporations to protect themselves from hackers.

"I think at the moment we are living in a time which is like the time was when people were not wearing seatbelts in the car."

A future with less data?

"The beauty of what's been occurring in the past year or two," says Gus Hosein, head of Privacy International, a global non-governmental organisation campaigning for privacy, "has been that some of the companies who are core now to the delivery of the internet as we know it have taken security and privacy much more seriously.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The EU is set to introduce new regulations on data privacy

"What is disappointing is that below the waterline, below what we can see, some of these companies have doubled-down or tripled-down on the extent to which they are grabbing data and doing things with that data without you ever being able to see."

But he thinks there is a limit to how much individual behaviour can achieve in securing online privacy.

"Almost every positive move that Facebook and Google and the other large companies have taken, particularly the data companies… has been as a result of regulatory pressure."

Most technology companies are based in the US where, he says, lobbyists have prevented regulations from being imposed.

That lobbying influence has proven less effective in Europe, where a new law, the General Data Protection Regulation, designed to increase safeguards on the storage and handling of personal data, is due to come into effect next year.

"My worry is that we'll become desensitised and we'll become quite resigned to the fact that, 'Yeah, our data is harvested, and, yeah, I guess it is not secure, and, yeah, I guess any criminal who wanted to can get access to it.'

"The defence of privacy will be the saviour of the future, essentially."

The Inquiry: Is privacy dead? was broadcast on Thursday 5 October. Listen online or download the podcast.

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Blue sky thinking


How the search for a 'death ray' led to radar

Image copyright Getty Images

You can trace the extent of our reliance on air travel to many inventions. The jet engine, perhaps, or the aeroplane itself.

But sometimes inventions need other inventions to unlock their full potential.

For the aviation industry, that story starts with the invention of the death ray, or at least an attempt to design a death ray, back in 1935.

Officials in the British Air Ministry were worried about falling behind Nazi Germany in the technological arms race.

The death ray idea intrigued them: they had been offering a £1,000 prize for anyone who could zap a sheep at a hundred paces. So far, nobody had claimed it.

But should they fund more active research? Was a death ray even possible?

Image copyright Sasha
Image caption Harry Grindell Matthews claimed to have invented a death ray in 1923, but couldn't persuade the British government to buy it

Unofficially, they sounded out Robert Watson Watt, of the Radio Research Station.

And he posed an abstract maths question to his colleague Skip Wilkins.

"Suppose, just suppose," said Watson Watt to Wilkins, "that you had eight pints of water, 1km [3,000ft] above the ground.

"And suppose that water was at 98F [37C], and you wanted to heat it to 105F.

"How much radio frequency power would you require, from a distance of 5km?"


Skip Wilkins was no fool.

He knew that eight pints was the amount of blood in an adult human, 98F was normal body temperature and 105F was warm enough to kill you, or at least make you pass out, which – if you're behind the controls of an aeroplane – amounts to much the same thing.

So Wilkins and Watson Watt understood each other, and they quickly agreed the death ray was hopeless: it would take too much power.

But they also saw an opportunity.

Clearly, the ministry had some cash to spend on research. Perhaps Watson Watt and Wilkins could propose some alternative way for them to spend it?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Robert Watson Watt played a key role in developing radar technology

Wilkins pondered. It might be possible, he suggested, to transmit radio waves and detect – from the echoes – the location of oncoming aircraft long before they could be seen.

Watson Watt dashed off a memo to the Air Ministry's newly formed Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence. Would they be interested in pursuing such an idea? They would indeed.

What Skip Wilkins was describing became known as radar.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme's sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

As Robert Buderi describes in his book The Invention That Changed the World, the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans all independently started work on it too.

Spectacular breakthrough

But by 1940, it was the British who had made a spectacular breakthrough: the resonant cavity magnetron, a radar transmitter far more powerful than its predecessors.

Pounded by Nazi bombers, Britain's factories would struggle to put the device into production. But America's factories could.

For months, British leaders plotted to use the magnetron as a bargaining chip for American secrets in other fields.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided Britain should share its radar research with the US

Then Winston Churchill took power, and decided that desperate times called for desperate measures.

Nerve-wracking journey

Britain would simply tell the Americans what they had, and ask for help.

So in August 1940, a Welsh physicist named Eddie Bowen endured a nerve-racking journey with a black metal chest containing a dozen prototype magnetrons.

First, he took a black cab across London: the cabbie refused to let the clunky metal chest inside, so Bowen had to hope it wouldn't fall off the roof rack.

Then, he took a long train ride to Liverpool, sharing a compartment with a mysterious, sharply dressed, military-looking man who spent the entire journey ignoring the young scientist and silently reading a newspaper.

Then, he took a ship across the Atlantic. What if it were hit by a German U-boat? The Nazis couldn't be allowed to recover the magnetrons; two holes were drilled in the crate to make sure it would sink if the boat did. But the boat didn't.

Image copyright MIT Museum
Image caption MIT's Radiation Laboratory went on to spawn 10 Nobel laureates

The magnetron stunned the Americans. Their research was years off the pace.

President Roosevelt approved funds for a new laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – uniquely, for the American War effort, administered not by the military but a civilian agency.

Industry got involved: the very best American academics were headhunted to join Bowen and his British colleagues.

Patchy rollout

By any measure, MIT's Radiation Laboratory – known as the Rad Lab – was a resounding success. It spawned 10 Nobel laureates. The radar it developed, detecting planes and submarines, helped to win the War.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Radar played a crucial role in helping Britain its her allies win World War Two

But urgency in times of war can quickly be lost in times of peace.

It seems obvious that civilian aviation would need radar too, given how quickly it was expanding.

In 1945, at the War's end, US domestic airlines carried seven million passengers. By 1955, this figure had risen to 38 million.

And the busier the skies, the more useful radar would be at preventing collisions.

But rollout was slow and patchy. Some airports installed it; many didn't.

In most airspace, planes weren't tracked at all. Pilots submitted their flight plans in advance, which should in theory ensure that no two planes were in the same place at the same time.

But avoiding collisions ultimately came down to a four-word protocol: "see and be seen".

Disastrous crash

On 30 June 1956, two passenger flights departed Los Angeles Airport, three minutes apart: one was bound for Kansas City, one for Chicago. Their planned flight paths intersected above the Grand Canyon, but at different heights.

Then thunderclouds developed. One plane's captain radioed to ask permission to fly above the storm. The air traffic controller cleared him to go to "1,000 on top" – 1,000ft above cloud cover. See and be seen.

Nobody knows for sure what happened: planes then had no "black box" flight recorders, and there were no survivors. At just before 10:31, air traffic control heard a garbled radio transmission: "Pull up! We are going in…"

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption The 1956 crash was a watershed moment in the history of airline safety

From the pattern of the wreckage, strewn for miles across the canyon floor, the planes seem to have approached each other at a 25-degree angle, presumably through a cloud.

Investigators speculated that both pilots had been distracted by trying to find gaps in the clouds, so passengers could enjoy the scenery.

Accidents happen. The question is what risks we're willing to run for economic benefits.

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How the smartphone became so smart

Battery bonanza: From frogs' legs to mobiles and electric cars

How economics killed the antibiotic dream

That question is becoming pertinent again with respect to crowded skies: many people have high hopes for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

They're already being used for everything from film-making to crop-spraying.

Companies such as Amazon expect the skies of our cities soon to be buzzing with grocery deliveries.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There have been occasions of near misses between drones and other aircraft

Civil aviation authorities are grappling with what to approve. Drones have "sense-and-avoid" technology, and it's pretty good, but is it good enough?

The crash over the Grand Canyon certainly concentrated minds. If technology existed to prevent things like this, shouldn't we make more effort to use it?

Within two years, what's now known as the Federal Aviation Administration was born in the United States.

And American skies today are about 20 times busier still. The world's biggest airports now see planes taking off and landing at an average of nearly twice a minute.

Collisions are absurdly rare, no matter now cloudy the conditions.

That's thanks to many things, but it's largely thanks to radar.

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times's Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme's sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Source –


Scam support


Scam baiter: Why I risk death threats to expose online cons

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Romance scams remain a successful tactic for criminals online.

In the flesh, Wayne May (not his real name) is an affable gentleman in his late 40s, softly spoken with a lilting Welsh accent.

When we meet he's casually dressed in jeans and a Batman T-shirt. He works full-time as a carer.

On the net, he's a tireless defender of scam victims and a fearless scam baiter – a person who deliberately contacts scammers, engages with them and then publishes as much information about them as possible in order to warn others.

He regularly receives death threats, and his website, Scam Survivors, is often subjected to attempted DDoS attacks – where a site is maliciously hit with lots of web traffic to try to knock it offline.

But Mr May is determined to continue helping scamming victims in his spare time, and has a team of volunteers in the US, Canada and Europe doing the same.

Image caption "Wayne May" says victims need to accept that they are unlikely to get their money back

Scam Survivors is not an official platform – in the UK victims are encouraged to contact Action Fraud – but the team has dealt with 20,000 cases in the past 12 years, he claims.

According to the Office for National Statistics there were 1.9 million reports of "cyber-related" fraud in the year ending March 2017 in England and Wales. But the report also says that many incidents go unreported.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website says nearly AUS$13m (£8m, $10m) has been lost this year to romance fraud alone.

Scamming may be an old trick but it's still an effective one.

Mr May, who does not charge but invites donations on his website, says his website gets up to 10,000 hits a day and the group also receives up to two dozen messages a day from people who are victims of sextortion – when a person is blackmailed after being persuaded to carry out a sex act on webcam, which is then recorded.

"A lot of people, when they come to us are already so far deep into it, they have nowhere to turn," he says.

"They're not stupid, they're just unaware of the scam."

"It's not obvious [that it's a scam] if they've never experienced it before."

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He discovered he was "rather good" at baiting romance scammers and found relatives of victims were approaching him to help loved-ones.

"I started dealing more with the victims of the scams rather than the scammers themselves, so my priorities changed then from just having fun to actually helping people."

Many scams are not a particularly sophisticated form of fraud.

"There are constantly new scams coming out, and we need to be aware of those," says Mr May.

"But a lot of the scams aren't high-tech, they simply write messages to people and that's it.

"You might think, 'I'm not going to fall for this scam' but then you'll fall for another one. The scammers will find a chink in your armour."

Image copyright Other
Image caption Daniel Perry, 17, died in a fall from the Forth Road Bridge in July 2013 – he was a victim of sextortion

The first thing Mr May has to explain to those who get in touch is that Scam Survivors cannot recover any money the victim has been persuaded to hand it over.

In his experience, the average victim will end up around £1,000 out of pocket, but some will go a lot further – one man who recently made contact with the support group had given more than £500,000 to a male Russian scammer he thought he was in a relationship with.

"We say upfront, we can't get your money back. We can't offer you emotional support. We're not psychiatrists. We're just people who know how scams work and how to deal with them," he says.

Advice for victims

  • Drop all contact with the scammer.
  • Don't try to track them down – remember, the scammer has your real details and possibly compromising information about you. It's not worth the risk to continue talking to them, and especially not worth confronting them.
  • If you sent cash, there's no realistic way to get it back – beware the "recovery scam" where the scammer then claims to be an agency able to get the money back, for a fee.
  • Contact the police.
  • Share as many details about the scam as you can to warn others.

To prevent being a victim, his advice is simple: "Google everything."

Search the images you are sent, the messages you receive – often scammers use the same material and the more widely shared it is, the more likely it is to end up on a website dedicated to exposing scams.

If you fear blackmail, Mr May suggests setting up an alert so that you are notified if your name is mentioned online. If, in the case of sextortion, a video is published on the net, you will then know straight away and can report it, as you are likely to be tagged in it.

"Be aware and learn how to search everything," he says.

"If someone sends you a picture or text, search it, try to find out as much as you can. If you're unsure don't send them money."

Image copyright Getty Images

Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and cyber-crime reporting service, said all scams reported to it are passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which is part of City of London Police.

However, a spokeswoman told the BBC that only around 30% of all fraud cases had "viable lines of inquiry".

"We know that at these levels it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to investigate all these crimes," said a spokeswoman.

"We have to maximise our resources where there is the best chance of a successful investigative outcome."

Professor Alan Woodward, cyber-security expert from Surrey University, said it was still important to keep reporting scams to the national body even if individual justice was not always possible.

"For those contacting Action Fraud UK to report a crime it may appear that little happens, but your information is vital in constructing an accurate picture of where, when and how online scams are occurring," he said.

"It may be that the police are unable to solve your individual crime but by studying the big picture they are able to zero in on the scammers.

"Your report could be vital in completing the overall picture and enable law enforcement to prevent others suffering as you have."

No sympathy

Some people argue that the scammers themselves are also in desperate situations – many of them operate in some of the poorest parts of the world, such as West Africa and the Philippines.

Wayne May has no sympathy.

"These people aren't Robin Hood types," he says.

"If you go online and scam people you have the money to go online, if you can't afford food you can't spend hours in an internet cafe."

He is, however, haunted by one occasion when a woman from the Philippines he was scam-baiting offered to perform on webcam for him. When he declined she then asked if she should involve her sister.

"She called this girl over and she couldn't have been more than nine or 10," he recalls.

"That horrified me. I said, 'Don't do this, not for me, not for anybody. You shouldn't do this'. I couldn't talk to her again after that. I had to completely walk away."

He says he has no idea what happened to her.

"I can't let it affect me too much, otherwise I wouldn't be able to do what I do," he said.

"I've been doing it for almost 12 years now, and if I let every case affect me I'd be a gibbering wreck in the corner."

Common Scams

Romance – when a scammer builds an intense online relationship with someone, then asks for money

Sextortion – when a victim is persuaded to carry out a sex act on webcam which is then videoed and the scammer demands a ransom in return for not publishing the content on the net

Pets – a pet is advertised for sale, and then fees are demanded in order to get the pet to its new owner. The pet does not exist.

Hitman – Someone claims to be a hitman and says that they have been paid to kill you. They then say that if you are prepared to pay more, they will not carry out the threat.

419 – named after section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code – claiming money from another person under false pretence: such as needing assistance to release a large sum of fictional inheritance.

Source –


From pillows to concrete


From fluffy pillows to concrete: The uses of captured CO2

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Your fluffy pillows and memory foam mattress could be helping to reduce CO2

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are contributing to global warming, so could technologies removing some of the gas from the atmosphere help slow the process?

When you tuck yourself into bed tonight – curling up on your memory foam mattress and fluffy pillows – consider this: you could be helping to reduce climate change.

This is because CO2 can now be captured from the air and stored in a range of everyday items in your home and on the street.

It can be used to make plastics for a whole host of things: the insulation in your fridge-freezer; the paint on your car; the soles of your shoes; and the binding of that new book you haven't read yet.

Even the concrete your street is made of could contain captured CO2.

UK-based Econic Technologies has invented a way of encouraging CO2 – a typically unreactive gas – to react with the petrochemical raw materials used in the making of many plastics.

In this catalysed form, the CO2 can make up to 50% of the ingredients needed for making plastic. And recycling existing CO2 in this way reduces the amount of new CO2 emissions usually resulting from the process.

"Our aim is that by 2026, the technology will be used to make at least 30% of the polyols [the units making up plastic] made globally, and that would reduce CO2 emission by 3.5 million tonnes each year," explains Rowena Sellens, chief executive of Econic Technologies.

"This is equivalent to taking more than two million cars off the road."

Image copyright CarbonCure
Image caption CarbonCure's Robert Niven thinks his firm's concrete is far more environmentally friendly

The company is currently working with partners in industry to introduce its technology to market.

Canadian company CarbonCure Technologies is recycling CO2 and putting it into concrete.

CarbonCure takes waste CO2 from industrial emitters – such as fertiliser producers – and injects controlled doses of the liquid gas directly into the concrete truck or mixer.

The reaction that takes place creates calcium carbonate particles that become permanently bound within the concrete – and make the concrete up to 20% stronger.

Today, CarbonCure's technology is installed in more than 60 concrete plants across Canada and the US, supplying hundreds of construction projects.

Another company, Carbon Engineering, captures CO2 and uses it to make diesel and jet fuel. While Carbon Clean Solutions, in the Indian port of Tuticorin, captures CO2 from a coal-fired power plant and turns it into soda ash (sodium carbonate), an ingredient in fertilisers, synthetic detergents and dyes.

But will such carbon capture efforts really make much difference?

Simply put, levels of "greenhouse gases" – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide are the main ones – have been rising rapidly because we've been burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – to make electricity and power our transportation, amongst other human activities.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Should we be reducing the amount of CO2 used in making plastics, or simply using less plastic?

At the 2015 Paris climate conference, 195 countries agreed to try to keep global temperatures to within 2C of pre-industrial times by reducing emissions.

But to achieve this target by 2030, the world needs to cut emissions – CO2 accounts for about 70% – by 12 to 14 gigatonnes per year, says John Christensen, director of a partnership between the UN Environment Programme and the Technical University of Denmark.

A gigatonne is a billion tonnes.

Econic, by contrast, hopes that by 2026, its technology will be responsible for reducing CO2 emissions by 3.5 million tonnes each year.

And CarbonCure has demonstrated that its technology can help a typical medium-sized concrete producer reduce CO2 emissions by 900 tonnes a year. Globally, the concrete industry could reduce CO2 emissions by more than 700 million tonnes a year, the company believes.

"It's great to have these options coming up," says Mr Christensen, "but there's no silver bullet, no single solution."

Image copyright Ashley Cooper
Image caption Greenpeace's Doug Parr thinks renewable energy is a better way to reduce CO2 emissions

Environmentalists are also concerned that such carbon capture technologies merely delay the fundamental shift society needs to make to become a low-carbon economy. A plastics factory producing less CO2 is still environmentally unfriendly, the argument goes.

"Research into new technologies and approaches that can help reduce carbon emissions is vital, but it must not become an excuse to delay action on tackling the root of the problem – our dependence on fossil fuels," says Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK.

"A process that appears to reduce emissions or increase efficiency can lock us into maintaining industries that could be replaced with much greener options."

In addition, Mr Christensen points out that these carbon capture technologies tend to be very costly because they are so small-scale.

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"The advances are positive but it's far from what is needed," he argues.

Another challenge is what to do with the recycled carbon. Some have suggested burying it in the ground or deep under the ocean, but the consequences of this are not fully understood.

So it's better to reduce the amount of emissions we produce in the first place through increased use of renewable energies, such as wind, hydro and solar power, environmentalists argue. This could reduce emissions by up to 50% of the amount needed.

"Use all the technologies available to bend the [emissions] curve down. Then carbon capture can come in," says Mr Christensen.

"It could have an important role to play."

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New Zealand Police sorry for crash death tweet


New Zealand Police sorry for crash death tweet

Image copyright @NZPolice/Twitter

New Zealand Police has apologised after an "insensitive" tweet about road death victims.

Criticism on social media labelled the tweet "tone-deaf" and "staggering".

"When we have to tell someone their family member has died in a crash," said the tweet from the official New Zealand Police twitter account, alongside a gif featuring American Office star Steve Carell.

"This is the worst," read the subtitle to the gif.

One social media user was quick to hand the police an award for "social media fail of the week", describing the tweet as "tone-deaf".

Skip Twitter post by @nikdirga

OK, it's only Monday, but this tweet by NZ Police already takes the booby prize for social media fail of the week. Tone-deaf.

— Nik Dirga (@nikdirga) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post by @nikdirga

Another predicted an imminent deletion and was proven right.

Skip Twitter post by @BenUffindell

Is it just me or this tweet going to get deleted?

— Stand-in Hooton (@BenUffindell) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post by @BenUffindell

Responding, the New Zealand Police explained that they had meant to convey how hard it is for officers to tell people of a loved one's death.

Skip Twitter post by @nzpolice

Telling someone their loved is not coming home is one of the hardest things cops ever have to do.

— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post by @nzpolice

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The tweet was indeed deleted and the New Zealand Police issued an apology.

Skip Twitter post 2 by @nzpolice

We apologise for the recent road safety tweet. We quickly realised it was wrong & insensitive & it was immediately deleted. Thx for feedback

— New Zealand Police (@nzpolice) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post 2 by @nzpolice

Skip Twitter post by @scott___warren

Staggering that anyone even considered tweeting that, let alone searched for the meme, drafted the tweet & then shared with the world!

— Scott Warren (@scott___warren) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post by @scott___warren

"Staggering that anyone even considered tweeting that, let alone searched for the meme, drafted the tweet and then shared with the world," advised one social media user with a background in consulting and community relations in Australia.

But others applauded the police for the swiftness of their response and for apologising.

Skip Twitter post by @KrystleF

Thinking of the social team @nzpolice today – a bad call but good on you for being upfront & apologising ASAP.

— Krystle Field (@KrystleF) October 9, 2017


End of Twitter post by @KrystleF

"Thinking of the social team at New Zealand Police today," one tweeted. "A bad call but good on you for being upfront and apologising as soon as possible."

Source –