Six simple steps to defend your data from ransomware

Ransomware blackmails Internet users by encrypting the files on their computer or mobile device and demanding payment, generally in the virtual currency bitcoin, to unlock them. — dpa

Recent ransomware attacks have rattled internet users around the world. This malicious software blackmails users by encrypting the files on their computer or mobile device and demanding payment, generally in the virtual currency bitcoin, to unlock them. But these six simple security measures can significantly reduce the risk of a computer being hit by an attack.

1. Regular updates
: Software updates for browsers and operating systems don’t just add new functions – they also install security patches to protect computers against the latest malicious software.

The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) recommends enabling automatic updates on a device and advises against the use of older operating systems such as Windows XP, for which Microsoft has stopped providing regular security updates.

Microsoft will also discontinue updates for the operating system’s successor, Windows Vista, this summer – all the more reason to replace it with a newer version.

2. Be vigilant: Don’t trust anyone, says, a website run by IT security companies and European law enforcement. Never open email attachments from suspicious accounts, don’t click on questionable links and don’t download unverified software.

Even emails from friends and co-workers should not necessarily be trusted. Before opening an attachment or clicking on a link, always take time to consider whether the sender’s online account could have been hacked or their computer software infiltrated by malicious software.

3. Antivirus software: Enable all the security applications in your operating system, advises the BSI. Reliable antivirus software can provide further protection, but must be kept up-to-date.

4. Back up data: Creating digital duplicates of your files can protect your personal information from disappearing forever. In the event of an attack, you can just transfer over your back-up files.

Windows (Backup and Restore) and MacOS (Time Machine) have in-built applications for backing up your data, but they might not be accessible in the event of an attack. A more secure option would be to save your files in an external device, such as a hard disk drive, solid-state drive, DVD, or in the cloud.

To reduce the risk of spreading viruses, only connect the external drive to a device during file transfers. As an extra precaution, save your data in two separate external hard drives.

5. Fight back
: If you happen to accidentally install malicious software or receive suspicious messages, immediately disconnect your device from the internet, instructs to be decrypted. This will prevent the infection from spreading.

You can then run a clean installation of your computer software, and transfer over your back-up files. For some types of ransomware, there are techniques to unlock the content on your computer.

The latest malware outbreak “Petya” can be stopped by creating the read-only filetype “C:\Windows\perfc.dat,” which prevents it from scrambling your files. An initial report on the antidote published on the site has since been confirm by several IT security companies.

6. Never pay: A blackmailer’s demands should never be met, says the State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) of Lower Saxony. There are several reasons for this, the LKA reports. First, even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee that you will regain access to your files.

Second, by paying the attacker, you are supporting the growth of a criminal industry. Every payment finances new attacks. In the case of the recent Petya outbreak, the payment system is useless, because only one email address was provided, which has since been shut down by the provider. — dpa

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Six simple steps to protect your data from ransomware

Six simple methods to save your information from ransomware via @techagentmedia
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Five tech-powered changes in next five years, IBM predicted

IBM_five tech

Technology stalwart IBM on Tuesday predicted classrooms getting to know students and doctors using DNA to customize care are among five big changes on the horizon.

IBM said that its annual forecast of five ways technology will change lives in the coming five years was “driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way.”

And while software evolves to “think” in ways similar to the human brain, computing power and troves of data kept handy in the Internet “cloud” will enable machines to power innovations in classrooms, local shops, doctors’ offices, city streets and elsewhere, according to the firm behind the Watson computer that triumphed on US television game show Jeopardy.

“Over time these computers will get smarter and more customized through interactions with data, devices and people, helping us take on what may have been seen as unsolvable problems by using all the information that surrounds us and bringing the right insight or suggestion to our fingertips right when it’s most needed,” IBM contended.

Predictions for the coming five years included “classrooms of the future” equipped with systems that track and analyze each student’s progress to tailor curriculum and help teachers target learning techniques.
IBM_five tech_children
“Basically, the classroom learns you,” IBM vice president of innovation Bernie Meyerson told AFP. “It is surprisingly straight-forward to do.”

In another prediction, IBM sees retail shops large or small blending online and real-world storefronts with ‘Watson-like’ technologies and augmented reality.

Also, doctors will tailor treatments using patient DNA, according to Meyerson.

“Knowing your genetic make-up lets you sort through a huge variety of treatment options and determine the best course to follow,” he said.

“They don’t have to carpet bomb your body to treat cancer,” Meyerson continued. “There is the ability to tailor the attack to improve the efficacy against cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.”

Smart machines tapping into the Internet cloud will also be able to serve as “digital guardians” protecting people from hackers by recognizing unusual online behavior, such as shopping binges at dubious websites, and spying scam email messages or booby-trapped links.

“The digital guardian will know you are not someone who goes to a poker site and tops off your account,” Meyerson said. “Not only does it shut down the behavior, but it tracks it back to who is doing it and passes the information on to authorities.”

The final prediction was that cities will weave social networks, smartphones, sensors, and machine learning to better manage services and build relationships with citizens.

“The city will help you live in it,” Meyerson said. “There is a new generation of leaders coming in who are extremely tech savvy and making good use of it.”

Sources: AFP-Times

The Education of Google’s Larry Page

Larry Page is surrounded. On one side, Google’s (GOOG) chief executive officer confronts Facebook, the social networking phenom that is about to go public. On his other side is Apple (AAPL), which has moved the playing field off the desktop computer—Google’s fiefdom—and onto smartphones and tablets. Thus Page, who became CEO of Google a year ago, has the task of steering the company he co-founded through territory defined by two rivals while fending off accusations that his brainchild has become yet another lumbering monopolist or, worse, a follower.

Sitting for an April 3 interview at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., Page bridles at any suggestion that Google isn’t the destiny-defining innovator it once was. He’s wearing geek business casual—fleece jacket, logo shirt, jeans, black Converse sneakers. “Producing the best [products] we possibly can for users is our paramount thing,” he says. “I think we have demonstrated that over a very long period of time, with a whole variety of different issues we’ve faced around the world.”

Page isn’t the first founder to reassert himself as leader of the company he helped to create. There was Howard Schultz’s return to run Starbucks (SBUX), which has worked out well, and Michael Dell’s reclaiming the reins of his eponymous PC maker, which has not. For a still-young tech entrepreneur such as Page, Steve Jobs’s triumphant homecoming at Apple in 1997 is the most obvious benchmark of success. Their situations aren’t totally analogous—unlike Jobs, Page never left the company he founded. Though the comparison is apt in one important way: In the 1990s, Apple needed a more sophisticated operating system to navigate changes in the computing landscape, and so bought Jobs’s company, NeXT. Today, Google also needs to figure out a new world, in which its users increasingly see the Web through the lens of their friends, instead of a cold, calculating algorithm. Although Google started social networks such as Orkut in the last decade, Page acknowledges that the company underestimated the power of friending. “Our mission was organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful,” he says. “I think we probably missed more of the people part of that than we should have.”

Google’s tardy embrace of social networking and its other moves, such as the strict terms it dictates to licensees of its Android operating system, have opened the company up to the kind of criticism it rarely encountered during its days as a mere colossus-in-the-making. Antitrust authorities in the U.S. and Europe are investigating whether Google gives preference to its own content in Internet search results instead of being a neutral arbiter. Privacy watchdog groups are calling Google out on changes to its privacy policies, charging that it has abused its users’ trust. Bloggers now routinely wonder if the company is doing evil, a caustic play on Google’s famous dictum in its 2004 initial public offering prospectus. A recent headline on the technology site Gizmodo hyperbolically summed up the stew of distrust: “Google’s Broken Promise: The End of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’”

Page smiles at the charge. Google, he insists, has not really changed at all. “Our soul is the same,” he says. “What we’re about is using large-scale technology advancements to help people, to make people’s lives better, to make community better. If you look at the river of things we’re doing, like automated cars and things like that, those things are fundamentally about [using technology] to help people. And I think there is still a huge amount of that to be done.”

With Sergey Brin, Page founded Google in 1998 at the age of 25. By any measure, the company is among the most remarkable in the history of Silicon Valley, growing from a research project at Stanford to a multibillion-dollar global behemoth in a little more than a decade. Yet by the time Page took command last April, Google had grown unfocused and unwieldy. A freewheeling atmosphere of invention and curiosity spawned countless unpolished, unsuccessful products. (Take Google Buzz. No, really, take it!) The previous CEO, Eric Schmidt, was spending much of his time on the road, focusing on the company’s mounting problems with antitrust and privacy regulators and dousing controversies such as the interception of home networking data by Google’s roving, camera-equipped Street View cars.

An ongoing discussion among Google’s leaders about refocusing the company around key product lines precipitated Schmidt’s decision to step aside. Now Google’s executive chairman, Schmidt is still the public face of the company at industry conferences and government hearings. Brin, Page’s co-founder, works on futuristic technology products, such as augmented-reality glasses. As CEO, Page handles the day-to-day decisions—and takes the blame when things go wrong. “He’s probably working harder than anyone at Google right now,” says Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of the group that makes the Chrome browser.

Page spent the months before his formal appointment as CEO reshaping the leadership team. “He had a very clear sense of the organization he wanted to have and handpicked people to run large areas of the company and set their objectives,” says Ram Shriram, a longtime Google board member. Newly elevated deputies included Pichai, Vic Gundotra of Google+, Salar Kamangar of YouTube, and Susan Wojcicki, who runs the ad unit.

Page also wanted to speed up decision-making at the company, whose ranks had swelled to almost 30,000 employees. He plucked one management idea from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who requires that the city’s department heads spend time sitting together in City Hall (Bloomberg is founder of Bloomberg LP, which owns this magazine). Page fashioned an open bullpen of desks on the fourth floor of Building 1900 in the Googleplex and required top managers, called the L-Team, to spend part of each day there. “The insight I got from Mayor Bloomberg was that it’s maybe more efficient to tell people, ‘For these hours of the day we’re going to be all together, and at these hours of the day, you’re going to be with your team,’” he says. “I’m just trying to get people together for a fixed set of hours in one place.”

Page also started cutting back on products that weren’t working. Services such as Knol, the Wikipedia knockoff, and the complicated productivity tool Google Wave were sent to the Google graveyard. The company reorganized into seven divisions: search, ads, YouTube, Android, Chrome, commerce, and social networking. Page worked on defining clear short- and long-term goals for the leaders of each group. “In some ways we have run the company as to let 1,000 flowers bloom, but once they do bloom you want to put together a coherent bouquet,” Brin said at a technology conference last fall.

In June, Google unveiled the work of the seventh product group—Google+. Page demanded that every employee embrace the new focus on social networking, and linked yearend bonuses to the overall success of the effort. He says he’s pleased with the service’s progress. “We’re not even a year into that, and that’s going very well; much better than I expected in many, many ways, and I think than most people would have expected,” he says. “It doesn’t mean tomorrow it’s going to be bigger than any other social network out there. That’s not realistic. But it’s growing faster, I think, than other services have.”

Many Google watchers, and more than a few shareholders and analysts, question the extent of that success. Google+ has attracted 100 million members, who spent an average of 3.3 minutes on the service in January, according to ComScore (SCOR). Facebook’s 850 million users spend an average of 7.5 hours a month on that site. Page cites his own Google+ follower count of 2 million users as evidence that people are engaging with the service. And he promises the social network is just getting started with new features.

Page also judges Google+ success in another way, arguing that it has added a necessary dimension to Google search results. He cites the dilemma of a friend, a Google engineer named Ben Smith. It’s such a common name that a Google search returns millions of results. Now that the company knows that Page and a particular Ben Smith are connected, the results are more specific. A common name “is good if you want to have privacy, and it’s bad if you want to have other friends find you,” Page says. “For the first time, we can put Ben Smith into the search box, and it can be the Ben Smith that you know.”

Linking data from Google+ into its search engine, however, has also invited scrutiny. The integration, named “Search, Plus Your World,” was rolled out in January to a chorus of protest from bloggers, privacy groups, and competitors who charged that Google was giving special treatment to its own content. Bloomberg News has reported that the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing Google+ as part of a larger antitrust investigation into whether Google is unfairly abusing its monopoly in search. Regulators in Europe and the U.S. are also looking into accompanying changes in Google’s privacy policy that allow the company to track consumers’ use of various Google services.

Page sounds more than a little exasperated by the doubters. He says he’d be happy to include social data from Facebook and Twitter inside Google results but can’t because those companies will not agree to make it available. “We would love to have better access to data that’s out there. We find it frustrating that we don’t,” he says. As an example, he points to ongoing friction over the one-way transferability of users’ address books between Gmail and Facebook. New members of Facebook can quickly and easily find their Gmail contacts, but it doesn’t work the other way: New Gmail users cannot similarly find their Facebook friends. “Our friends at Facebook have imported many, many, many Gmail addresses and exported zero addresses out,” he says. “They claim that users don’t own that data, which is a total specious claim. It’s completely unreasonable.”

As for the parts of their sites that rivals do make available to Google’s search engine, such as individual tweets or profile pages on Facebook—Page dismisses the idea that Google should do a better job of getting those to show up in its search results. “We don’t force anyone to index,” he says. “That’s not the way we operate. … That’s always somebody else’s choice, whether their data is indexed or not.”

Last July, Google lost an important battle that was mostly invisible to the public. It bid for the patent portfolio of bankrupt Canadian telecom pioneer Nortel and was outspent by a consortium of rivals that included Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE), Research In Motion (RIMM), and Apple. Suddenly, Android, the open-source mobile operating system that powers about 50 percent of the world’s smartphones, seemed vulnerable to the wave of licensing shakedowns and patent lawsuits breaking out in the high-tech industry. The next month, Google paid an astonishing $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility (MMI), the American technology company with its own trove of mobile patents dating back to the invention of the cell phone. “Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies,” Page wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

Page laments the tendency among technology companies to sue each other over intellectual property. “The general trend of the industry towards being a lot more litigious somehow has been a sad thing,” he says. “There is a lot of money going to lawyers and things, instead of building great products.” Google, he insists, has never aggressively enforced its own patents in search, and he blasts the aggressors engaging in warfare in the mobile arena. “I think that companies usually get into that when they’re towards the end of their life cycle or they don’t have good confidence in their abilities to really compete naturally.”

Although Google’s acquisition of Motorola was approved by regulators in the U.S. and Europe, it remains under review by Chinese antitrust officials and the deal has yet to close. Dennis Woodside, a longtime Google executive, will head the new Motorola division inside Google, Bloomberg News has reported. Page won’t elaborate on his plans for Motorola Mobility, though it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t introduce Google-branded phones and tablets to help the company compete with the runaway success of Apple’s elegant hardware. Existing Android tablets “are great experiences,” Page insists, “but they are going to get a lot better. I think we’re at the pretty early stages of this.”

At the end of the conversation, Page addresses one anecdote relayed in Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of Steve Jobs. According to a story in that book, Page called Jobs before his death, seeking advice on how to run Google. Jobs had threatened “thermonuclear war” on Google for copying elements of the iPhone, Isaacson wrote, but put aside his animosity over Android to counsel the young CEO.

Page offers a different version of those events. He says that Jobs reached out to him, not the other way around, and that when they met, in the last months of Jobs’s life, the Apple founder offered useful insights into how to run a company. Page believes that Jobs’s fury toward Google was not entirely genuine and was “actually for show.” Asked to explain, he suggests that Jobs’s apparent rage about Android was merely meant to motivate Apple employees. “For a lot of companies, it’s useful for them to really feel like they have an obvious competitor and to rally around that. I personally believe it’s better to shoot higher. You don’t want to be looking at your competitors.”

That could be a classic Silicon Valley-style distortion of reality. The man who pioneered the practice and would know for sure is gone. It’s now Larry Page’s world, and he’ll have to work even harder than he already does to keep it that way.

By Bloomberg Business Technology

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A server for the home

EASY ACCESS: The Home Server Console will allow you to manage the operating system remotely from any other machine.

ONE OF the most overlooked versions of Windows is Home Server and it also happens to be one of Microsoft’s best.

It is not uncommon for a home to have more than one computer, which is why having a dedicated machine with Home Server is so vital.

Firstly, Home Server will make backups of up to 10 machines in your house — we would prefer that there wasn’t a limit but 10 sounds reasonable for now.

Besides maintaining backups it can also stream movies and music, and share files across the network.

At the moment, you can’t get your hands on just a copy of the OS but instead have to buy a Home Server PC.

Acer is the only one offering such a machine here and it is called the Acer Aspire Easy Store.

Though custom building your own computer and installing Home Server would be the best option, the Acer Easy Store gets quite a number of things right.

Acer Aspire Easy Store

It has an Intel Atom 230 processor (1.6GHz /512K cache/ 533MHz FSB), Intel 945GC Express chipset, 2GB RAM and 1TB hard drive (upgradable to 8TB over four bays). It costs RM1,299.

Also, more Home Server PCs are expected to be available starting from the third quarter of this year. If you don’t wish to wait, you can download a trial copy at and start fooling with it.

Remote access

Because the Home Server is best controlled remotely, you will have to install a client called a WHS Connector on each machine.

Even though the software is included with the Home Server disc, there is a better way to install the client over the network. Open up a browser window and type in http://servername:55000 where the server name is the name of your Home Network PC.

This should bring up the Windows Home Server Connector page which will prompt you to download the client. Once you download and install the client you’ll be prompted to input the admin password for the Home Server machine.

After that you will be presented with the Console window from which you can fully control the functions of the Home Server and how it’ll interact with the other machines.

The first tab – Computers and Backup – will show all the other computers connected to the Home Server. You can use it to schedule backups or start an instant backup.

Also, should you need to retrieve any of the backed up files, you can access the read-only virtual partition that the Home Server will create for you on your local machine.

Streaming media

The Home Server will automatically create a few standard folders for file sharing. To be able to stream to other devices, go to the Console setting and click on Media Sharing on the left pane.

You will then be able to turn on media streaming for all your shared folders.

However, the Home Server can only stream to devices that support the Windows Media Connect protocol such as a PC with Media Player and Xbox 360.

More add-ins

It’s also a good idea to update Home Server with the latest patches and security fixes. Click on the Setting button on the top right corner. Look for the Update Now button under the General tab and click it.

This will download the latest patches and security fixes. There are also a number of community developed add-ins that you should consider installing. Here are a few of our favourites.

Advanced Admin Console (
For even better control of your Home Server, you can install the Advanced Admin Console which will create an additional tab in the Console window.

The handy tab will give you quick access to the server’s Command Prompt, Registry Editor, Start Menu, Recycle Bin, Administrative Tools and Task manager.

Disk Management (
As good as Home Server is at managing the multiple hard disks but you’ll still want to be able to see every possible information of your storage.

With Disk Management, you’ll be able to see detailed information about each disk including its capacity, real-time temperature and activity and a 3D wireframe representation of the server.

The 3D wireframe is not only cool looking but it also makes it easy to select any part of the hard disk that you wish to monitor.

Armed with this info, you’ll know exactly which drive to upgrade or replace before it’s too late.

LightsOut (
Home Server is meant to run 24/7 so that it is always available but you still should do your part for the planet by saving as much power as possible.

You can do this with the LightsOut add-in which can put the server in Suspended or Hibernation mode until a particular event triggers it awake such as a scheduled backup.

However, LightsOut comes in two flavours — a free but limited version and a full version which costs US22.90 (RM75).

My Movies (
With so many movies and songs on your hard disk you’ll want a convenient way to sort them. Enter the My Movies add-in.

This nifty add-in retrieves community generated metadata for tagging movies with info such as movie summary, director and cast information, running time, genres and more.

You’ll even get high quality movie covers so you don’t have to browse your movies by text alone.

This feature is only supported if you access the Home Server using Windows Media Centre from any other computer.

The add-in also features extra functions such as DVD ripping but this has to be unlocked with a donation to the forum.

Source: The Star TechCentral

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Prospective U.S. Cyber Command Talks Terms of Digital Warfares


For years, the military has worried about the vulnerability of the United States to cyberattack — and how and when to return fire in digital warfare. Now, the issue is taking center stage, as the Senate considers the nomination of an Army general to head the military’s first four-star Cyber Command.

In a hearing this morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee will review the nomination of Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander to be the head of the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command. It’s a chance to get a closer look at the kind of capabilities for waging network warfare the Pentagon thinks it needs. But it’s also likely to raise questions about just how far the military is willing to go in attacking foreign networks.

Last year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered the creation of U.S. Cyber Command to coordinate all of the military’s online activities. Alexander is in many ways a logical pick. He comes from the world of electronic intelligence: He is director of the National Security Agency (NSA), the super-secretive military and intelligence outfit at Fort Meade, Maryland, that is charged with code-cracking and foreign communications interception. And he will head an organization that, in large part, will be an important line of defense against cyberspying. (He’s a classmate of Gen. David Petraeus, West Point class of ‘74.)

But Alexander will also have to answer questions about how the United States might retaliate if it comes under online attack. Military planners are mindful of incidents like the massive cyberassaults against Georgia in 2008 and Estonia in 2007. In both cases, fingers pointed to Russia, but experts questioned whether the Russian government had a direct hand in events, and pointed instead to the role played by patriotic volunteers (or “cybermilitias”) who orchestrated the online assaults.

In both of those cases, cyberattacks threatened civilian networks and the financial system. It’s unclear if the military could retaliate in kind. In a series of written answers to questions from senators (.pdf), Alexander said, “It is difficult for me to conceive of an instance where it would be appropriate to attack a bank or a financial institution, unless perhaps it was being used solely to support enemy military operations.”

And the scope of responsibility for the new commander is also quite sweeping (Alexander will also be “dual-hatted,” staying on as head of the NSA). In written answers, Alexander said the organization’s new missions would include “integrating cyberspace operations and synchronizing warfighting effects across the global-security environment; providing support to civil authorities and international partners; directing global-information grid operations and defense; executing full-spectrum military cyberspace operations; serving as the focal point for deconfliction of DOD offensive cyberspace operations; providing improved shared situational awareness of cyberspace operations, including indications and warning.”

In other words, everything but the kitchen sink. We’ll be watching the hearing, and will hope to get more answers on Alexander’s vision for the new command

Computer Scientists Develop a Comfortable and Secure Login Method

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2010) — As most internet users know, it is often hard to remember or keep apart all the passwords and login names for one’s different online accounts.

Dr. Bernd Borchert, together with stu-dents at the Computer Science Department of Tübingen University, has tackled this issue. They developed a new method that saves the users not only the trouble of memorizing the passwords and login names, but also of typing them. All of this is managed by the user’s smartphone.

Moreover, the new approach solves a common problem which many internet users choose to ignore: passwords can be tapped by so-called keyloggers, i.e. trojans on the computer a password is entered into, and could later be misused for criminal purposes. As Dr. Borchert’s method does not rely on permanent passwords anymore, the problem of tap-ping becomes obsolete.

The new method was filed for patent application.

From the user’s point of view, Borchert’s approach works as follows: The user downloads the method’s application software to his smartphone. For each account he wants to be managed by the app, he needs to go through a short initialization process on the smartphone. In order to access an account, the user can open the respective login page in a browser window on any computer. He will then be shown a 2D-code that he must scan with the smartphone’s camera. After the data is processed by the app, the smartphone contacts the account server via internet. The server checks the data received, connects to the browser window on the computer and opens the user’s account. Thus, the user gets into his account almost by magic — he only has to scan the 2D-code. In order to prevent unauthorized persons from logging in to an account, e.g. in case the smartphone is stolen, the user may protect his most important accounts with an additional tap-proof password query.

A prototype of the new application software was programmed by computer science students — the link below refers to the demonstration web page which also contains a short demo video. Appropriate apps already exist for some types of smartphone. The project team is currently looking for account providers willing to implement the method in order to offer it to their users.

Demonstration web page containing more information and links:


Computer algorithm, MRI used to tap memory

A computer algorithm, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), and neuroscientists working together have been able to identify what people are remembering by measuring blood flow levels, according to new research out of the University College London.

First, a group of 10 volunteers (average age 21) was shown three very short (as in 7 seconds) films, each of a woman on a city street doing a simple task, such as mailing a letter. Then, each of the volunteers was placed inside an fMRI scanner and asked to recall each film, first in a specific order, then at random.

One of the three short films showed this woman mailing a letter.

(Credit: Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging/UCL)

Using the scanner to measure changes in the brain’s blood flow and a computer algorithm, researchers were able to identify which short film each person was remembering at a level the study’s lead author describes in a news release to be “significantly above what would be expected by chance.”

“This suggests that our memories are recorded in a regular pattern,” says Martin Chadwick, who conducted the research at the University College London’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. The article appears in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers homed in on the medial temporal lobe, a region of the brain thought to be most involved in episodic memory. The computer algorithm performed best when analyzing the hippocampus, which the team has already studied.

Across all participants, the rear right, front left, and front right areas of the hippocampus appeared to be consistently involved. While it remains unclear exactly what role the front two regions play, the rear right was found in a previous study–identifying where a person was standing in a virtual reality simulation–to be where spatial information is recorded.

“Now that we are developing a clearer picture of how our memories are stored, we hope to examine how they are affected by time, the aging process and by brain injury,” says Eleanor Maguire, who helmed the study as an extension of last year’s work on spatial memory.

It’s arguable whether the algorithm’s accuracy is good enough to celebrate, since it identified the film being thought about correctly less than half of the time (40 to 45 percent, to be precise). But that is better than 33 percent, which is the rate at which a blind guess between three films would be accurate.

Probably the most exciting discovery is that the memory traces associated with each film were consistent throughout not only the study, but from one volunteer to the next, suggesting that memories may in fact have some sort of fixed, identifiable pattern.

Source: Elizabeth Armstrong Moore – a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. She has contributed to Wired magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include unicycling, slacklining, hula-hooping, scuba diving, billiards, Sudoku, Magic the Gathering, and classical piano. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.

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