FBI cracks iPhone encryption, plans to again

Just days after cracking the iPhone of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook, the FBI agreed to use the same method to hack into a murder suspect’s iPhone in Arkansas.

Following a legal battle with Apple, the FBI announced in a court filing that Apple would no longer be required to provide court-ordered assistance in breaking the encryption of Farook’s phone after an unnamed third-party company assisted them in breaking the encryption.

According to a postponement application by the Department of Justice for a March 23 lawsuit hearing, the third-party provided a possible method to bypass the iPhone’s security measure that deletes data after 10 failed attempts. After confirming the data would not be compromised, the FBI cracked the encryption.

Representatives of Apple said that the broken encryption creates a privacy concern that puts regular people at risk.

“There’s nothing to stop this government or another from doing this same thing tomorrow, the next day or next week,” said lawyer Ted Olson, who joined the legal battle between Apple and the FBI one month ago.

FBI Director James Comey countered this statement with a post on Lawfare Blog saying that the case is not about sending a message or creating a precedent, but is about seeing that justice is served.

“We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land. I hope thoughtful people will take the time to understand that. Maybe the phone holds the clue to finding more terrorists. Maybe it doesn’t,” he said. “But we can’t look the survivors in the eye, or ourselves in the mirror, if we don’t follow this lead.”

While he said that this case was not meant to set a precedent, the FBI agreed to assist in unlocking two smartphones thought to contain evidence for a double-homicide case in Arkansas. In this case, Arkansas teenagers Hunter Dexler and Justin Staton both pleaded innocent of charges of murder and aggravated robbery.

It should be noted that it is not yet clear whether the FBI plans to use the same method they used in the San Bernardino case to unlock the phones. It is also unclear whether the method would even work.

The phone that the prosecution believes to contain evidence for the case is a newer model than Farook’s, who owned an iPhone 5C. Dexler’s is an iPhone 6. This model, first released in September 2014, introduced new encryption technology so sophisticated that Apple employees cannot unlock the device.

As soon as a passcode is created, the phone encrypts data including but not limited to call records, email, text messages and photographs with a similar encryption system to the one used by the U.S. government.

According to Apple’s September 2014 Security Guide, it should take more than five years to attempt all of the possible combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode including lowercase letters and numbers.

Sophomore history major Nicholas Terres said that while there are positives and negatives to both Apple’s perspective and the FBI’s perspective. He said that it is important to balance privacy and security and said that the government should create a clearer line between the two with rules explaining when to cross those lines.

“They could set up a method to it, an identifiable document where [their policies] could be fleshed out and not abused,” Terres said.

Study suggests sports video games can increase knowledge

The next time you consider learning a new sport, it might be a good idea to play a video game version of it first, according to a study out of Winthrop University’s Department of Physical Education.

In 2014, assistant professors of physical education Seth Jenny and David Schary conducted a study on using Madden NFL to learn how to play football.

This study used volunteer international students that had no previous experiment with the game.

While the results suggested ability to learn the rules of a sports game through video games, they were not statistically significant.

This changed with their most recent study, conducted in Fall 2015. This time using American students and Don Bradman Cricket, the study showed significant results in four out of five categories.

The categories tested were rules, terminology, field layout, player positions and umpire signals. Knowledge in each of these areas was tested with an exam before and after the gaming composed of 50 questions, 10 in each area.

Out of 98 volunteers in the study, 48 played video games as the experimental group. The rest of the volunteers acted as a control, simply taking the test twice with no gaming to help.

The 48 volunteers who played the game performed much better in the second test than the control group in every area except umpire signals. Umpire signals did see an improvement, but it was not a substantial improvement.

Why did this study show better differentiation than the 2014 study? Jenny has a few ideas.

“In the Madden study, it took them about an hour to an hour and a half of gaming to learn the controls,” Jenny said. “One of the things that helped in this study is they played the game tutorial in how to bowl and how to bat at the very beginning.”

Jenny said that the tutorial was excluded in the 2014 study since they wanted any learning to be from playing football in the game, but he did not realize at the time how difficult it would be to learn the controls by trial and error.

Because of this change, the majority of time in the 3 gaming sessions was spent was on playing the game, not learning the controls.

While the study suggests that video games can be used to teach sports games, one of the issues with using video games for teaching purposes is that the game has to be realistic.

“We looked at rugby,” Jenny said. “The rugby games got bad game reviews. It wasn’t realistic and that’s sort of the point of the study, to learn about the game.”

Teachers thinking of using video games as a teaching tool in the future should take this into consideration and be knowledgeable about the game mechanics and their accuracy.

Jenny said that he could not have done the study without the help of the volunteers, Jason Chung, David Schary, and Scot Rademaker.

The next study that Jenny is planning will take a further look at video games as a teaching tool by comparing Don Bradman Cricket to instruction from a professor.

“Seeing the people learning about cricket in the study was my favorite part,” Jenny said. “What my hope is that people can gain an interest in a sport by playing a video game version of it. That’s why we’re doing the research. We’re trying to figure out ways to motivate people.”

For more information on this study or the upcoming Cricket study, contact Seth Jenny at jennys@winthrop.edu.

Game Review: Disgaea PC

Disgaea PC is the new port of Nippon Ichi Software’s 2003 strategy role playing game. Disgaea is a classic RPG with seemingly endless replay value filled with humor and action.

The game stars Laharl, demon Prince of the Netherworld who awakens after a 2-year nap to find out that his father, Overlord Krichevskoy has died. Along with unlikely allies that include exploding penguins, an angel trainee, and an inept space hero, Laharl must battle his way to retaking the throne.

Disgaea PC uses all of the functionality that was added in the PSP port Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. This port added new modes to the original as well as characters from Disgaea 2 and a music shop that lets players listen to whatever song they want from the game.

Despite the success of the PSP port and the fact that Disgaea was one of my favorite games growing up, this port held little to be desired, at least for the $20 price tag.

One of the main features that NIS added is what they call updated user interface and textures. While the updated UI is fantastic and makes it much easier to read the menus, the texture update is not much of an upgrade.

The backgrounds look fantastically crisp and high definition for an SRPG. They also added shading and shadows to the world. The issue is the fact that the sprites weren’t updated.

While there is an option to smooth the character sprites, the juxtaposition of the faded sprites over the new background makes the characters seem out of place. This isn’t the only issue with the updated textures, however.

I have a gaming computer, and even I experienced fps drops due to the new functionality of the port. After I while I had to turn the computer to High Performance Mode, which uses much more power and processing and is normally meant for 4k texture Skyrim with over 200 mods. This should not be necessary for a PSP port.

I also, even after switching modes, experienced a game crash. While I only had one while others have reported more, I think it is still important to note.

One of Disgaea’s key features that set it apart is a concept called “The Item World.” This is an area in the game that allows players to enter items and fight through randomly-generated dungeons to improve the item.

Crashes are a major issue here as players are only allowed to save the game every 10 floors. A crash in the item world, depending on the complexity of the dungeons you get, could take away over 2 hours of gameplay.

What is most surprising to me is what they didn’t add. For years, fans have been asking for a way to increase the combat speed. While certain animations can be turned off, the game still takes a while to get through due to waiting on certain animations that don’t turn off.

While I love this game, this port does not do it justice. For anyone who already owns this on PSP, don’t bother buying it; you already have the best version. For those who have not played it, I recommend the game for its story and gameplay, but try to get it on another console if you can.

This port gets a 1.0 point drop with a 3.5 rating.

That being said, I still hope that NIS will attempt to port the other games to PC and I do believe that they will improve this port with patches.


Pros – Gameplay same as the PSP version, packed with humor and references, updated UI

Cons – Flawed textures, frame rate drops, random crashes, gamepad support could be better.

Children in a social age: how young is too young?

When we were little, many of us spent our days playing with Barbies, Legos or even playing outside.

Occasionally, we may have played a video or computer game. Many children today have access to the Internet, and in many cases they are not sufficiently monitored.

Cyberbullying, sexting and sharing personal information are just a few of the dangers that children may face on social media. So how young is too young for Instagram?

According to a study by Director of the Self and Relationships research team at the University of Michigan, teens and preteens spending a great deal of time on Facebook can increase risk of depressive symptoms, a malady that has come to be called “Facebook Depression.”

University of Houston researcher Mai-Ly Steers said that comparing oneself to others may be the cause of this in some cases.

“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare, because you never know what your friends are going to post.

Steers said that while social media might seem to be a benefit, she hopes that her research will help people understand that there could be unintentional side effects and consequences.

“If we’re comparing ourselves to our friends’ ‘highlight reels,’ this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are,” Steers said.

A social age survey conducted by KnowTheNet, a nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom, over half of children will have joined a social media network by the age of 10, most of them joining Facebook. The study also found that 43 percent of 8 to 16-year-olds had messaged strangers.

Although Facebook has a minimum age limit of 13 millions of children under 13 are on Facebook anyway, often with their parents’ knowledge.

Certified family physician Deborah Gilboa said that parents knowingly allowing Facebook to those underage sets a bad example.

“Preteens need to learn to follow rules before they learn the later skill of which rules are appropriate to break in life,” she said. “They need to see that rules are enforced.”

Social media addiction is becoming a major public issue. The younger children are allowed to use social media, the more time they have to become addicted, potentially to a point where it would be very difficult to fight the addiction.

KnowTheNet’s social age survey continued with a response from the children surveyed. According to them, the best way for parents to address this issue is communication.

For some children and parents, it might just be a good idea to wait until the children have matured, but for those that do choose to allow social media use, while parental controls are helpful, they don’t catch everything.

This means that parents have to talk to their children about the dangers and help children understand them.

Parents should also familiarize themselves with their child’s school Internet policies and try to be aware of what is happening at school and on social media, offering guidance as needed.

Game Review: Learn Japanese to Survive

Learn Japanese to Survive: Hiragana Battle is the first game of what I hope will be many from independent developer Sleepy Duck Educational Games.

Crafted in classic JRPG style reminiscent of Pokémon, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, this game’s purpose is to do something more than simply provide entertainment, but to teach the principles of Hiragana, the most basic of the three writing styles of Japan.

The story of Hiragana Battle stars a girl named Claire and her friends. One day, a mysterious wizard appears and starts attacking their town with magic spells, summoning strange symbols that no weapon seems to be able to destroy.

This wizard boasts that the only person who would be able to stand against him is someone that can understand his language, Japanese.

This is true, not only for Claire and her friends, but for the player as well.

You advance in the game by learning to recognize the sound of the symbol and attacking these “Hiragana Warriors” with the correct pronunciation. Wrong answers will not harm these monsters.

Lessons show how to read, say and write five to 10 syllables, each shown by a single symbol. Between lessons, Hiragana Battle trains recognition of these Japanese characters through repetition in classic RPG battles.

Battles award traditional RPG loot including items, experience and money.

When enough characters are learned, the game progresses to words and basic phrases like “Good Morning” (Ohaiyou Gozaimasu) and “How old are you?” (Nan sai desu ka?).

This game is a great introduction to the basics of Japanese and disguises itself as a fun, humorous game with jokes that can sometimes poke fun at what is expected of this type of game.

Having said what this game is, it is also important to emphasize what it is not. This game will not teach enough to hold a full conversation with a Japanese person.

It also will not teach how to read all Japanese since the game does not cover Katakana or Kanji.

This game is like a first-year language course, laying the foundation for later studies.

Having said that, it is effective in its goals.

There are some minor issues; however, that are easy to overlook.

Animations for the game are simple. Characters move only slightly and there is no variation in attack animation.

In addition, sometimes the animations for writing the characters do not work correctly.

The more words you learn, the more congested the menus get in battle. There are a total of about potential 71 different answers in the attack menu.

Having said that, these issues are minor. The main goal of the game is to serve as a teaching tool, so it makes sense that there would be some minor problems with the gameplay.

What most surprises me about this game is that production began as a Kickstarter project in November, raising over $4.6 thousand in a month.

The game was finished and released in mid-February, but it does not feel rushed.

I look forward to what Sleepy Duck does next.

I give Learn Japanese to Survive: Hiragana Battle a 4 out of 5.


Science, not always newsworthy

“How do you know what to cover?” said NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca. “Often the news is the least interesting.”

Palca took students on a journey looking at his career experiences that led him to start a new series called Joe’s Big Idea. In this series, he focuses on the stories that might seem trivial and unimportant but are still very interesting.

One example he pointed to is a scientific discovery mentioned by an event goer. CRISPR, a DNA editing tool has been in the news a great deal lately due to its use in increasing disease resistance and removing mutations like blindness in lab animals.

“The CRISPR paper came out in 2012,” Palca said. “Did anybody cover it? No. It’s being covered like crazy now and when it wins a Nobel Prize, it’ll get covered again.”

The main reasons that the applied use of CRISPR, as opposed to its discovery, and the current legal battle between the University of California and the Broad Institute over the patent.

Palca said that another major topic in science news right now is the Zika virus. When he asked who in the audience was worried about catching it, not one person raised a hand.

“The question, then, is why is the media doing round-the-clock coverage of Zika?” Palca said. “A lot of people have trouble understanding the relative risk.”

Scientists often focus on stories that have little impact on much of the world, tend to sensationalize stories causing public fear and often cover incorrect stories. This is because in the field of science it is difficult to tell what the most important story is. Joe’s Big Idea is an attempt to address this.

“I have solved the problem by finding stories that people might be interested in, not ones that are gonna affect your life tomorrow, because that’s what journalism is supposed to do,” Palca said. “I’m doing the ones that are interesting and reveal something about the process of science.”

He recommended finding interesting stories that answer questions of why things happen the way they do. Examples from his work included why ants don’t have traffic problems when walking in a straight line, why and egg begins to spin upright after being spun on its side and why we need leap seconds.

When pursuing these stories, for the sake of accuracy, it is important to ask many questions so that the reporter can paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind of why things work as they do, without dumbing down the process in the translation.

“How do you cover things when you really don’t understand them?” Palca said. “You keep asking questions until you understand and a good way to find out you know what’s going on is to say ‘so what you’re saying is…’”

Whether the answer to the question is yes or no, it presents an excellent learning opportunity.

Ultimately, no matter what the story is, he said that the most important skill reporters need is quality writing and storytelling, while also being confident in their abilities while not appearing cocky about them.

“You have to have the ability to learn what you don’t know,” Palca said.