Have you spent any time at the airport during the Holidays? You may have had to deal with long queues, lost luggage and… Apple AirTags. What is an AirTag and most importantly: how does it use Internet connectivity to help you find your missing stuff? Whether is’s your suitcase that’s lost at the airport because of a lack of baggage handlers, your laptop that you may have left at the office or simply your purse that could be lying underneath a pile of clothes somewhere in your home – let’s find out how an AirTag can help you recover it!
A word about HTTP status codes: they’re the numbers webservers send back to your browser in response to your requests for webpages and they’re used to let you know if everything went well. Surely you’re familiar with 404 (not found) in case you’re looking for a page that just doesn’t exist, or you may have seen 500 (server error) to indicate not all is well with the webserver. You might also know the one you don’t usually see: 200 (ok) means everything went without a hitch. In fact, there’s lots more status codes that can be used to alert you about all kinds of conditions.
So, while status codes are a small but important part that makes the World Wide Web run, cats are surely another important part! Who needs a boring list to learn more about status codes, when instead we can combine the two. Please click this link to proceed to http.cat.
There are many ways to connect to the Internet. A new option that’s rapidly gaining popularity, is getting Internet from space: we’ve written before about how Elon Musk’s Starlink is launching a network of thousands of small satellites into orbit, beaming Internet down to Earth. Now, they’ve reached a milestone as they’ve connected 100.000 paying customers.
A Starlink connection
So, what can you expect from a Starlink Internet connection? At a cost of $99 or €99 a month, you could get connection speeds ranging from 50 to 150 Mbit per second and upwards. Also, you’ll need to invest $/€ 499 in the starter kit, which includes a satellite dish and router.
If right now you’re reading this using a much faster, much cheaper connection then good for you, but satellite Internet may not sound like an attractive proposition. However, consider the many remote places on Earth where no cables are laid down and cellphone signals won’t reach, and it starts to make sense!
While the bandwidth offered may not be all that impressive, satellite Internet promises to be fast in another way: low latency. Light travels faster through space than through the underseas optical fibre cables connecting the continents. Sending signals through space could reduce the time it takes data to travel around the world, say from New York to Amsterdam, by maybe 20 or 30 ms. That’s a lot if you’re a high volume stock trader or professional gamer.
Bringing Internet to more people sounds like a great idea, but some are accusing Starlink of polluting space. Astronomers complain that the huge amount of small satellites being launched will distort our view of the night sky and also increase the risk of spacecraft crashing into each other, with Starlink satellites already being blamed for half of close encounters.
How do you feel about Internet from space? Let us know in the comments below!
DNS is known as the address book of the Internet: when you want to visit a website you will know its hostname, such as www.networksinthenews.com. In reality the website is hosted on a webserver which can be reached at a specific IP address. So how to find that address? Simple, you ask a DNS server!
In recent years, the use of DNS has become more and more of a privacy headache. In the old days, most of our communication over the Internet was not encrypted. That made it relatively easy for hackers to eavesdrop. These days, more and more websites support HTTPS: encrypting the traffic makes it impossible (or at least much harder) to listen in. But before we can reach that website, we’ll need to know its IP address and for that we’ll first need to perform – indeed – an unencrypted DNS query.
DNS traffic is typically still unencrypted and that’s where our troubles begin: for each website we visit, we’ll send a request over the Internet, asking DNS for the IP address for that hostname. This means that anyone monitoring our DNS traffic will get an easy listing of all the websites we’re visiting. To that end, it’s in fact much easier for a hacker to just focus on our DNS traffic, instead of trying to analyse every single bit of data we transmit. And it’s not just hackers we should worry about, but also our own Internet Service Providers keeping track of us. All of this was not lost on goverments trying to censor the Internet either: a simple way to block access to unwanted sites is to just block the DNS requests for those hostnames.
Cryptocurrencies are hot. In our last post we talked about Bitcoin: it has the potential to change our world in many useful ways, but at a price. To keep its blockchain secure, Bitcoin requires as much energy to run as entire countries. In a world where climate change is a growing concern, people may start to ask questions.
In fact, there are a number of alternative technologies in development. An interesting example is IOTA, which is envisioned as a distributed ledger for the Internet of Things. It’s not based on a blockchain, but instead uses a Directed Acyclic Graph called the Tangle. So, what exacly is the Tangle, how will it allow payments between smart devices, and how is it different from a blockchain?
As a reader of this blog, you’re probably familiar with Bitcoin. You may have even invested in some, in hopes of becoming the next Bitcoin billionaire. In fact Bitcoin and the underlying Blockchain technology are probably the most exciting new application of networked technology that we’ve seen in quite a while. We’ve talked before about how Blockchain is not just a new way to make payments, but can be used to record all kinds of transactions. It could potentially improve many parts of life, from preventing slave labour to having sex…
These good things, however, come at a price. The security of Bitcoin depends on so-called miners. These miners are a decentralised network of computer systems that create new Bitcoin while verifying previous transactions. Their work consists of performing some quite intensive calculations and to be rewarded for that (they can receive an amount of Bitcoin), they need to be the first among the miners to finish these calculations, and also correctly find a random number.
It’s a bit like trying to win the lottery: just like you could improve your chances of hitting the jackpot by buying more tickets, in this case you increase your chances of being rewarded with precious Bitcoin by purchasing more and more processing power. This has led to people creating ‘mining farms’, consisting of large numbers of machines with specialised hardware, trying to crunch numbers faster and faster.
As you can imagine, these mining farms consume huge amounts of power. How much exactly is hard to say, but studies by the Cambridge centre for alternative finance estimate it may take as much as 130 terawatt hours a year to keep Bitcoin running, which is comparable to the yearly electricity consumption of a country like Argentina or the Netherlands! To make matters worse, many large mining farms are placed in countries where energy is cheapest, and those are not necessary places that invest much in green energy or have strong environmental regulations.
At a time when global warming and climate change are major concerns, this vast energy consumption may turn out to be Bitcoin’s undoing. Time will tell if Bitcoin can overcome these environmental concerns, or if attention will slowly shift to alternative technologies.
Update: meanwhile, people are finding other ways to make cryptocurrency more eco-friendly, using the heat generated by their mining rigs to warm their homes and strawberry farms!
We’ve witnessed some upsetting security incidents in the United States of America recently. As a new president is entering the White House, the latest security concern is in fact… a bike! We’re not talking about an ordinary bike. Part of Joe Biden’s favourite fitness routine includes a Peloton exercise bike, which is a stationary exercise bike combined with an interactive tablet. This setup allows you take part in group training sessions remotely, which is perfect when gyms are closed because of lockdowns, or when you’re keeping a busy schedule, for example because you were just elected president of the USA!
So what’s the concern? The bike is in fact part of the Internet of Things and contains a camera and microphone that connect to the Internet. Bringing these devices into the White House could potentially allow hackers to access them remotely and capture all kinds of sensitive information. I’m sure they’ll eventually work out a solution that will allow the President to stay fit and his conversations private. The good thing is that at least they’re aware of the risks being posed by bringing all kinds of devices in our homes online… quite unlike some unsuspecting people that recently had their Ring doorbells hacked or their stuffed animals taken hostage!
As a consequence of Brexit that I personally hadn’t seen coming, a large number of UK citizens stand to lose access to their website and email addresses. Now that the UK has officially left the European Union, over 81.000 domain names ending in .eu will be inactived. As their owners no longer meet the requirement of being a EU citizen, they will not be entitled to own a domain under the .eu top level domain.
For those affected that still aspire to having a bit of exotic and international allure in their domain names, may I suggest registering a .Amsterdam domain instead?
Update: ironically, one of the websites affected is for Leave.EU. The organistion that has spent years campaining for the UK to leave the EU, now has had to leave Britain and register in Ireland instead, to keep access to its website.