The Light Side: '123456' Is an Awesome Password, It's Confirmed

August 15, 2014

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In Mel Brooks' 1987 Star Wars parody film Spaceballs, a character under duress reveals the combination to unlock a precious device as "12345," to which a Darth Vader-like villain proclaims, "That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life! That's the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!" Moments later, the combination is revealed to another villain, played by Brooks, who says,"That's amazing. I've got the same combination on my luggage."

Brooks' "idiot" character might have been on to something after all, more than a quarter-century ago, before the Internet age today. If you're like many people, you use the same login combination for access to multiple websites in trying to make things easier on yourself, but unfortunately that goes against the widely recommended practice of using unique, complex usernames and passwords for every account you have. Some people go further to accommodate thieves, duplicating easily remembered but hackable credentials like "password" and "123456," which was crowned the worst password of 2013.

But "123456" is not as useless as thought.

Researchers at Microsoft and Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont., say weak passwords have a place in effective Internet account management strategies that group websites by priority. Password segmentation, they say, can significantly help users stay on top of all of their accounts without the need for online password managers, by relegating easy-to-remember credentials, such as "123456," to throwaway accounts and keeping strong passwords to just critical personal accounts like banking and e-commerce ones.

A paper put out by researchers at Microsoft Research and Paul van Oorschot at Carleton Univ. acknowledges that managing passwords "is an impossible task as portfolio size grows." But to that point, van Oorschot added, "Many sites ask for passwords, but they require no security at all. They basically want to get the email address to contact you, but there's nothing to protect."

There are many password managers offered on the Web, with the good intention of storing people's sensitive information so they don't have to rack their brains about which login combination belongs to which site. But it's a high-risk, high-reward move with these utilities because all credentials may be lost if they get hacked. And in the Microsoft-Carleton paper, researchers write that they found vulnerabilities with online password managers.

A unique-complex-password-for-all-site strategy also works counterintuitively to maximizing security, the researchers say. A person might be extremely mindful of her logins and use a different, hard-to-crack username-password combination for each of her accounts. But what happens usually is the person will need to write all of that information down somewhere or store it digitally -- usually in an insecure place -- making it easy pickings for thieves snooping around.

So take the researchers' advice and keep the hard-to-remember passwords to just a few all-important sites. And it's perfectly all right to use "123456." Just don't use it for your luggage.

'Invisible' Plane Suspends You Up in the Sky 

When you fly, especially long haul, you typically want to focus on comfort and avoid the thought that you're hurtling through the sky at 33,000 feet in a cylindrical metal tube. Now a concept plane wants to wrap that thought all around your head via an in-flight panoramic view of the lower stratosphere -- except the aircraft has no windows.

The IXION windowless jet instead uses external cameras and all-around display panels in the cabin to give passengers the illusion of a transparent fuselage. The setup adjusts for perspective individually, producing the most realistic sensation possible for everyone that there's nothing around them but the wild blue yonder.

Reported on the site SPLOID, the IXION concept prompted one reader to ponder the prospect of flying through a storm in an "invisible" jet and the incontinence problem that would follow. Should IXION go beyond mere crazy idea and into commercial use, we suppose a carrier or private owner would have a stockpile of peaceful panoramic footage ready to cue up whenever turbulence strikes.

The IXION was thought up by Technicon Design. Check out the video below. Admittedly, the outer-space reel is quite a cool illusion, for those who can charter a private jet but are unable to afford commercial space flight as yet. (Virgin Galactic charges $250,000 a seat.) Rather than windows, the exterior of the plane design has solar panels for powering low-voltage systems aboard, in a nod to sustainability.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndcG_4A38Z4[/youtube]

Keep It Weird and Take Our Money, SkyMall

Speaking of flying, anyone who has taken a domestic U.S. flight is familiar with the garden yeti statue (or its zombie variant), the frog in the zen pose, and lately, the doggy rain poncho with the telescopic hood. Because let's be real, despite that consummate road-warrior image you do best to uphold, pontificating that the best time to work is on a plane ride, that's when you really flipped through the pages of SkyMall, perusing electronic gadgets, energy- and health-boosting clothing, trinkets, baubles, and that neat-looking automatic litterbox/water fountain for your cat.

And that's when you didn't catch up on zzzs, chase recorded TV shows or movies, ponder whether that injection molding shop that advertises in the in-flight magazine would really do a 5-piece-part run, or seriously consider that innocent-looking lunch-dating service since you're a "busy" professional.

math clockSkyMall is approaching its silver anniversary, and it promises to continue to have the quirkiest offerings around. After all, the business model of selling whimsical wares to highly captive audiences susceptible to impulse buys has worked for nearly 25 years.

Still, the in-flight retailer admits to CNN that it is more difficult now than it was in 1990 to keep passengers affixed to its quarterly catalog, what with tablets, smartphones, and Sudoku. "One of the larger shifts in the last several years is we've become extremely product-centric," said Darin Geiger, SkyMall's director of merchandising. "We want to be proactive in finding what's new and unique. To that end, we've been going to a lot more trade shows, searching the globe for those new products."

And searching for stranger and stranger products it has been doing. Geiger counts the garden yeti and the remote-controlled replica R2D2 droid from Star Wars as bestsellers, and its current in-stock items include the Mathematical Expressions Clock and the Bracelet Assistant, which eliminates the "need to ask anyone for help" to fasten one because bracelets "are tricky pieces of jewelry," as the copy reads.

"First we look at products that are new to market," Geiger said. "Then, we look for those social-media-type products that our marketing team can have a lot of fun with."

Tattoo Biobatteries Produce Power from Sweat

In the future, working up a sweat by exercising may not only be good for your health, but it could also power your small electronic devices. Researchers have designed a sensor in the form of a temporary tattoo that can both monitor a person's progress during exercise and produce power from their perspiration.

The device works by detecting and responding to lactate, which is naturally present in sweat. "Lactate is a very important indicator of how you are doing during exercise," said Wenzhao Jia, Ph.D.

In general, the more intense the exercise, the more lactate the body produces. During strenuous physical activity, the body needs to generate more energy, so it activates a process called glycolysis, which produces energy and lactate, the latter of which scientists can detect in the blood. Therefore, blood samples have to be given.

Jia, a postdoctoral student in the lab of Joseph Wang, D.Sc., at the University of California San Diego, and her colleagues developed a faster, easier, and more comfortable way to measure lactate during exercise. They imprinted a flexible lactate sensor onto temporary tattoo paper. The sensor contained an enzyme that strips electrons from lactate, generating a weak electrical current.

The researchers applied the tattoo to the upper arms of 10 healthy volunteers. Then the team measured the electrical current produced as the volunteers exercised at increasing resistance levels on a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes. In this way, they could continuously monitor sweat lactate levels over time and with changes in exercise intensity.

The team then went a step further, building on these findings to make a sweat-powered biobattery. Batteries produce energy by passing current, in the form of electrons, from an anode to a cathode. In this case, the anode contained the enzyme that removes electrons from lactate, and the cathode contained a molecule that accepts the electrons.

When 15 volunteers wore the tattoo biobatteries while exercising on a stationary bike, they produced different amounts of power. Interestingly, people who were less fit (exercising fewer than once a week) produced more power than those who were moderately fit (exercising one to three times per week). Enthusiasts who worked out more than three times per week produced the least amount of power. The researchers say that this is probably because the less-fit people became fatigued sooner, causing glycolysis to kick in earlier, forming more lactate. The maximum amount of energy produced by a person in the low-fitness group was 70 microwatts per square centimeter of skin.

"The current produced is not that high, but we are working on enhancing it so that eventually we could power some small electronic devices," Jia said. "[O]ur electrodes are only 2 by 3 millimeters in size and generate about 4 microwatts — a bit small to generate enough power to run a watch, for example, which requires at least 10 microwatts. So besides working to get higher power, we also need to leverage electronics to store the generated current and make it sufficient for these requirements.

"These represent the first examples of epidermal electrochemical biosensing and biofuel cells that could potentially be used for a wide range of future applications," Wang said.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_D7JOd07M8[/youtube]

 

Top photo credit: iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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