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How photo encryption could safeguard our online images

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To stop our images from being compromised, researchers developed photo encryption technology compatible with major cloud storage services.

Cloud services for storing photos have a serious security role. Google Photos, for instance, must safeguard more than 1bn users alongside their weekly uploads of 28bn photos and videos.

Many of these photos will intentionally end up on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds, but others we would prefer not to share.

Now, a team of researchers has developed technology in an effort to protect our images and make sure that what we consider private stays private.

“There are many cases of employees at online services abusing their insider access to user data, like SnapChat employees looking at people’s private photos,” said John S Koh, the lead author of the paper.

“There have even been bugs that reveal random users’ data to other users, which actually happened with a bug in Google Photos that revealed users’ private videos to other entirely random users.”

While this presents an obvious problem, that doesn’t mean it’s time to switch back to polaroids just yet. Koh’s intended solution was photo encryption.

Unfortunately, many services such as Google Photos don’t allow for encryption. These systems often incorporate compression to reduce file size, but this would corrupt any encrypted images.

Another issue would be thumbnails. These miniature snapshots are great for browsing your gallery but aren’t currently compatible with encryption techniques.

Some third-party services have managed photo encryption in their hosting, but all of these require migrating from the bigger services such as Google.

Solving this problem was the focus of the research team. Its system, dubbed Easy Secure Photos (ESP), encrypts images uploaded to cloud services so only the original user can view the images.

ESP employs a photo-encryption algorithm where the resulting files can be compressed and can still be recognised as images. To anyone who isn’t the authorised user, these images will just look like static.

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Encrypting each image results in three black-and-white files, each one encoding details about the original image’s red, green, or blue data. Impressively, ESP also creates and uploads encrypted thumbnail images to cloud photo services. That way, the authorised user can browse thumbnail galleries by incorporating ESP.

“Our system adds an extra layer of protection beyond your password-based account security,” said Koh, who designed and implemented ESP.

“The goal is to make it so that only your devices can see your sensitive photos, and no one else unless you specifically share it with them.”

The researchers wanted to make sure that each user could use multiple devices to access their online photos if desired.

The problem is the same digital code or ‘key’ used to encrypt a photo has to be the same one used to decrypt the image, making multi-device functionality a research riddle.

“Lots of work has shown that users do not understand keys and requiring them to move them around from one device to another is a recipe for disaster, either because the scheme is too complicated for users to use, or because they copy the key the wrong way and inadvertently give everyone access to their encrypted data,” explained Koh.

On this system, all a user has to do in order to bypass the photo encryption is to verify their new device with one that has previously logged into an ESP-enabled app.

To prove the efficacy of their technology, the researchers implemented ESP in Simple Gallery, a popular photo gallery app on Android.

It could successfully encrypt images from Google Photos, Flickr and Imgur without changes needed to any of these cloud photo services and showed only minor increases in download and upload time.

“We are experiencing the beginning of a major technological boom where even average users move towards moving all their data into the cloud. This comes with great privacy concerns that have only recently started rearing their ugly heads, such as the increasing number of discovered cases of cloud service employees looking at private user data,” Koh said.

“Users should have an option to protect their data that they think is really important in these popular services, and we explore just one practical solution for this.”

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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