Virgin Galactic makes it to space

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has finally taken humans into space.

This week, the snappily-named “SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity” flew its two pilots, Mark Stucky and C.J. Sturckow, 80km above the Earth’s surface.

80km is not high enough to go into orbit, but it’s high enough for the US Air Force to class it as officially being in space.

From Wired:

The flight is an important step for the bevvy of commercial companies who are promising to take paying passengers into space, with Virgin Galactic’s efforts closely followed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets and the New Shepard rockets of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture.

Having first hitched a ride from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California under the belly of its mothership VMS Eve, the pilots fired the engine for one minute – longer than ever before. Then they brought the spaceplane into a vertical position and ascended to 82.7km at 2.9 the speed of sound. During its previous powered test last July, the ship went up a mere 52km.

Aside from the obvious, I thought the most interesting thing about this story is that the VSS Utility had already flown to space, just without pilots.

I guess one of the biggest changes from the last space race is that the human pilots are no longer the most important part.

In fact, they seem pretty superfluous. The only reason humans are being taken up with the ship, it seems, is for the sake of taking humans up with the ship.

Still, given that Virgin Galactic was first envisioned as a kind of space holiday company, taking human passengers is high on the priority list.

And chief among them, once it all gets going for real, is Sir Richard himself. He has stated many times that he will be on the first commercial flight, along with a number of other passengers that fronted up the $250,000 for a flight years ago.

Branson himself admits that progress has been slow, since one of Virgin Galactic’s first test flights crashed, killing one of the pilots and injuring another in 2014.

After that incident, Branson decided that safety was more important than speed and progress slowed.

However, when it comes to manned spaceflights, his company is still ahead of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, as CNN reported last month:

If Virgin Galactic reaches space before the year is done, it’ll put Branson’s venture ahead of its direct competitor, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. Founded in 2000, Blue Origin also plans to offer paying customers suborbital flights. Galactic could also beat Elon Musk’s SpaceX — which has a booming business making unmanned trips to orbit and is gearing up to fly astronauts to the International Space Station next year.

“Safety’s all that matters if you’re putting people into space,” he said. “So none of us will race to be the first.”

But, he added, “Virgin Galactic will be the first.”

“Elon’s done extraordinary things. We hope to do extraordinary things. Jeff, I’m sure, will do extraordinary things,” Branson said. “The demand for space travel, whether it’s satellites, putting people into space, is enormous…So, exciting times ahead.”

I love his bravado in that above quote.

As I have written about many times this year, I expect the next space race will be a big theme in 2019. NASA is planning to go back to the moon, Bezos wants to start building his moon base and Musk is planning to launch his BFR rocket.

Iran cracks 2FA, sort of

Last week news surfaced that Ian found a sneaky way to bypass 2FA.

If you want a refresher on what 2FA is, and why you should be using it, you can read my article on it here.

From the Associated Press:

The AP drew on data gathered by the London-based cybersecurity group Certfa to track how a hacking group often nicknamed Charming Kitten spent the past month trying to break into the private emails of more than a dozen U.S. Treasury officials. Also on the hackers’ hit list: high-profile defenders, detractors and enforcers of the nuclear deal struck between Washington and Tehran, as well as Arab atomic scientists, Iranian civil society figures and D.C. think tank employees.

The way it did it was simple yet effective.

Ars Technica did a good job of explaining how the hack works:

The [phishing] emails contained a hidden image that alerted the attackers in real time when targets viewed the messages. When targets entered passwords into a fake Gmail or Yahoo security page, the attackers would almost simultaneously enter the credentials into a real login page. In the event targets’ accounts were protected by 2fa, the attackers redirected targets to a new page that requested a one-time password.

“In other words, they check victims’ usernames and passwords in realtime on their own servers, and even if 2 factor authentication such as text message, authenticator app or one-tap login are enabled they can trick targets and steal that information too,” Certfa Lab researchers wrote.

Basically a phishing email got them to click through to a fake login page that recorded their login details in real time.

The hackers then entered these details into a real login page and when the hacked person was asked for a 2FA code – which only lasts a short amount of time – the hackers then copied that into the real login.

It’s not an original idea, but it seems Iran has implemented it pretty well.

I first heard of this hacking technique on Reddit, with a user reporting their Binance account had been cleared out by hackers doing a similar thing. (A fake login page, which the hackers recorded the inputs of end entered on the real site at the same time.)

It just goes to show that even if you are very careful with your online security, you can still be hacked.

This is one of the reasons that if you’re investing in crypto it pays to use a hardware wallet like a Ledger or a Trezor.

You could not compromise these wallets with any of the above hacking techniques. In fact, currently the only way to hack a hardware wallet is with a “$5 wrench attack”, which any valuable item is susceptible to.

Audi and IOTA working on a new project

IOTA’s partnership with VW is fairly well known by now.

What is probably less well known is just how many car brands VW actually owns.

Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda all fall under the Volkswagen group.

Which I why it’s no surprise that Audi has announced it is working with IOTA on a new project.

From Malte Schönfeld, venture development manager at AUDI:

The last five months we had a great time at the #AudiDenkwerkstatt Berlin, working in crossfunctional teams with #IOTA on a new project.

With the focus on enabling trust for the user in #emobility we pushed a new usecase to reality.

Stay tuned for further Information.

Details on what this new use case are, were light. But given VW’s demonstration of an IOTA powered self-driving car in June, I would imagine it’s something similar.

Okay, that’s all for today.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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