Internet News (June 2018)

Rice University use Deep Learning to write software

Dubbed Bayou, computer scientists at Rice University, named after William Marsh Rice the benefactor that made the university a reality, have created “a system for generating API idioms”: in plain English, it generates computer code without human intervention.

The application was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and its primary means of “learning” was to just absorb as much Java source code freely available online as possible to use as a base to work from. Swarat Chaudhuri, co-creator of Bayou and Associate Professor of Computer Science at the university, said that at this point, “it’s basically studied everything on GitHub and it draws on that to write its own code.”

Getting a computer program to write code competently has long been a sought after achievement in the field of AI computing. Chaudhuri explains.

“People have tried for 60 years to build systems that can write code, but the problem is that these methods aren’t that good with ambiguity. You usually need to give a lot of details about what the target program does, and writing down these details can be as much work as just writing the code. Bayou is a considerable improvement. A developer can give Bayou a very small amount of information, just a few keywords or prompts really, and Bayou will try to read the programmer’s mind and predict the program they want.”

Fellow co-creator Chris Jermaine, himself a Professor of Computer Science alongside Chaudhuri and co-directs Rice University’s Software Systems Lab, says that Bayou’s strengths lie in generating example code snippets for specific APIs.  “Programming today is very different than it was 30 or 40 years ago, computers today are in our pockets, on our wrists, and in billions of home appliances, vehicles, and other devices. The days when a programmer could write code from scratch are long gone.”

Another significant contributor to the project, research scientist Vijay Murali, has also commented on the achievement.  “Modern software development is all about APls. These are system-specific rules, tools, definitions, and protocols that allow a piece of code to interact with a specific operating system, database, hardware platform, or another software system. There are hundreds of APIs, and navigating them is very difficult for developers. They spend lots of time at question-answer sites like Stack Overflow asking other developers for help.”

The main future goal now is to extend Bayou by enlisting the aid of other developers, and they have released the source for Bayou under an open-source license to hopefully do just that. Jermaine is keen for developers to increase Bayou’s development and potential. “The more information we have about what people want from a system like Bayou, the better we can make it. We want as many people to use it as we can get.”

You can read the paper they published on the 1st of May that was presented at ICLR (International Conference on Learning) here:, and you can also take a look at the GitHub report for the project here: along with visiting the website for the project here:

Social media not the cause of less face-to-face interaction

Researches at both the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas have reached the conclusion that social media use has “no significant negative effect” on social interactions or personal well-being. Michael Kearney, assistant professor at Missouri University’s School of Journalism, was interviewed recently and explained their findings. “The current assumption is that when people spend more time on apps like Facebook and Snapchat, the quality of their in-person social interactions decreases. However, our results suggested that social media use doesn’t have a strong impact on future social interactions.”

“People are spending increased amounts of time using the internet and other media that may replace the time they could use for speaking face to face, but that doesn’t mean that they are worse for it. People must ultimately be responsible for maintaining their relationships, whether that’s through social media or other means.”

Two studies were set up by Kearney and the rest of the team to attempt to ascertain the real situation – one long-term, one short-term.

The former study focused on a two year study between 2009 and 2011 that followed the social media use habits of individuals, finding that face-to-face social contact was unaffected by varied amounts of social media usage.

The latter study, taking place over a much shorter five day period, surveyed adults and college students via text messages. The conclusion of that study was that social media use early in the day had “no impact on future social interactions”, however if the person had been alone earlier in the day prior to social media use, the study found it led to lower levels of social well-being.

Kearney recently commented on the findings. “People who use social media alone likely aren’t getting their face-to-face social needs met, so if they’re not having their social needs met in their life outside of social media it makes sense that looking at social media might make them feel even lonelier.”

The paper written on the research is entitled “Two tests of social displacement through social media use”.

WHOIS hamstrung By GDPR

WHOIS, a sort of internet phone book of registered website domain owners, a service that can be used by anyone on the web as well as the police and journalists alike to help ascertain whether a website is legitimate or not, has been forced strip most information, including names, phone numbers, and emails, from some websites in its database in order to comply with the regulations within the new GDPR legislation.

ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a nonprofit company responsible for a number of internet related databases, who operate the WHOIS service, had previously requested an extension on the time required to comply with GDPR, and were subsequently denied.

Numerous people from a diverse array of fields have come forward to say their piece regarding this turn of events.

Lawyers Brian Finch and Steven Farmer sent a letter to the Wall Street Journal to emphasize the importance of the service and what the consequence of this action will be. “Police will be robbed of ready access to vital data drastically impeding their efforts to identify and shut down illicit activity. The regulatory rubric the EU has created will make it harder than ever to catch computer hackers.”

Farmer told the BBC that many companies are being incredibly cautious regarding the regulation, mainly due to the lack of guidance provided by the EU. “The consequences of getting it wrong are so serious (so companies are) extremely conservative in interpreting the law. It’s regrettable we didn’t have guidance on the key principles.”

The CEO of cyber security firm Panaseer, Nik Whitfield, also had some less than glowing words for the regulation, being careful not to understate the importance of WHOIS. “The service is valuable for protection as it helps provide context around whether an external website is legitimate or potentially unsafe.”

Other companies have just decided to not even attempt to make their websites GDPR compliant, opting for the solution of simply denying EU users access to the site at all, simply landing those users on a page stating that GDPR has forced them into this situation.

Malware causes FBI to issue public warning

VPNFilter, malware that targets internet routers and is believed by the FBI to have been created by Russian hacker group Sofacy, also known as Fancy Bear, is doing the rounds at the moment.

The malware is designed to infect a number of different types of networking routers, more specifically those using the MODBUS protocol to enable communication with industrial hardware in factories and warehouses. It can also disrupt internet access, steal information of users on the network such as usernames and passwords, and use the infected target as a vector to propagate and spread further.

Due to this latest outbreak, the FBI has been issuing warnings urging the general public to reboot their routers. While this reboot will not affect the initial infection of the device, it does neuter its other capabilities, at least until the initial infection is triggered to repeat the install of those other parts again. The FBI has seized the domain of the website that would have been the trigger for reactivation of those other functions, with traffic being redirected to a safe server under FBI control.

The FBI’s public statement reads, “The FBI recommends any owner of small office and home office routers reboot the devices to temporarily disrupt the malware and aid the potential identification of infected devices. Owners are advised to consider disabling remote-management settings on devices and secure with strong passwords and encryption when enabled. Network devices should be upgraded to the latest available versions of firmware.”


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Internet News – May 2018

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