DIY Robots Make Brute-Force Security Hacks Possible

With enough patience, and enough robots, you can crack just about anything

2 min read
DIY Robots Make Brute-Force Security Hacks Possible

Many common types of software security systems only function because they assume that nobody has the time, interest, or energy to use brute force approaches to crack them. Take your phone, for example: it (probably) has a four digit number to unlock it. A human would likely not bother to try out all 10,000 combinations since it would be super boring, but robots don't get bored, so this sort of security doesn't dissuade them.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) often works the same way: by making it time consuming for people to copy things, the idea is that people just won't copy things. And it works. The two key words there, though, are "time consuming" and "people," and if you change "people" to "robots," time consuming ceases to be a factor. And so does the DRM, as this creative little LEGO robot shows.

We probably shouldn't say that this robot can "crack" the DRM on an eBook. Rather, it avoids it. The distinction is important, because while cracking might be illegal, avoiding doesn't seem like it should be. Designer Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at Vienna University of Technology in Austria, doesn't really intend for this to be used, however. It's more of a statement:

[Peter] says he got the idea for using the Kindle and the Mindstorms kit for something neither were intended for. “It ended being a reflection on the loss of long-established rights when you buy an e-book. You make a copy of that book, but at eye-level, so that the result is not a stack of paper, but another e-book.”
It’s not intended as a statement against e-books, which he loves, he says, but rather what he considers a “dramatic loss of rights for the book owner. “The owner isn’t even an owner anymore but rather a licensee of the book,” he says.

I'm now kind of wondering whether it would be illegal to sell this robot  (or instructions how to build it) as an "eBook copying tool," or perhaps to be less inflammatory about it, as an "eBook backup creator." And even if it is illegal, is there anything that anyone could do to keep you from taking pictures of your own screen?

[ AllThingsD ] via [ BBG ]

Thanks Travis!

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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