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Independent Study and World-Class Learning.

Imagine a world where the sum total of human knowledge is available your fingertip. You could learn about anything – drones, DIY nuclear fusion, or Old English poetry. You could take courses at the world’s greatest universities for free.

Now imagine that this is the world you live in. Online, the public now has access to filmed lectures and course materials from the greatest universities on Earth. Programs like MIT OpenCourseWare, Edx, and Coursera provide free access to courses taught at schools from Harvard College to University of Adelaide. Topics range from American poetry to aeronautics.

Best of all, these courses can be taken for credit here at Bronxville through our uniquely flexible independent study program. With a faculty sponsor, you can build your own course: group or individual, pass-fail or letter-graded, online or in class.

Take this year’s “Advanced Programming Group Study.” The curriculum was put together by a group of students wishing to continue college-level computer science after taking AP Computer Science. It is based on MIT’s 6.004x Computational Structures and administered through the Edx online learning platform. Students literally built a computer from the transistors up.

Another student leveraged the program to conduct school-recognized independent research in plasma physics. Others wrote an Italian operas, studied pollution in the Bronx, learned Mandarin. One group even formed a student help desk.

The possibilities are limitless.

Internet of Things Strikes Back

As you may have heard, last week a large portion of the internet suddenly went dark. Major websites like the New York Times, Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit were temporarily unavailable. The reason quickly became clear – a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack against Dyn, an internet services company.

This denial of service attack overwhelmed Dyn’s servers with bogus requests from infected computers so that legitimate users couldn’t access Dyn’s services. Servers, computers which store information online, can only handle a limited number of requests for data. Malicious actors sometimes attempt to block users from accessing the data by directing a large network of infected computers (a botnet) to make rapid requests for large amounts of data. These requests overwhelm the server and block legitimate users from accessing it.

There are several strategies companies can use to avoid denial of service attacks. They can block the offending bots from their services or attempt to separate human-made requests from automated ones. A common strategy is to block computers from particular geographic areas. Malicious actors have responded by spreading their botnets across the globe in distributed denial of service attacks. Generally speaking, the more computers participating in an attack and more spread out those computers, the more difficult to block it. One is to block computers in

So what made this attack so special? Well first off, it was enormous. The botnet included 10s of millions of computers and requested 1.2 terabytes per second from Dyn, smashing the previous DDOS record of 600 gigabytes per second. Secondly, most of the bots weren’t strictly computers. Instead, web-enabled CCTV cameras and DVRs were the main attackers. The hackers had broken into these devices using default usernames and passwords and built a huge botnet out of them.

The unprecedented size of the overwhelmed even the relatively well-prepared Dyn and brought down many sites reliant on the company. It marked an unanticipated consequence of the growing Internet of Things – weakly protected web-enabled devices will allow hackers to built huge botnets. Security experts and internet business are still figuring out how to best respond to this new reality.

Information – Stuff you should know.

#ClassicHackerMovies

 

Information is the raw material powering our modern digital world. We think and talk about it frequently, whether in reference to information technology, ‘big data’ analytics, or just complaining about our smartphone’s monthly data limit. Few of us, however, really understand what information is or how we could measure it. Or come to it, charge money for an ‘amount’ of information. This post attempts to explain a little bit of the mathematical reasoning behind information theory and how that reasoning is used to design digital information systems. Continue reading “Information – Stuff you should know.”