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Can you trust the personal Internet of Things?

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Some of us are really excited about a world of human-implantable Internet of Things (IoT). I’m not keen on it. You see, a few years back, in the TV series Homeland, the US Vice President was assassinated by a terrorist who hacked into his heart pacemaker. 

Could that really happen? Yes. 

Also: The internet of human things: Implants for everybody and how we get there

Fatal security problems

In 2017, MedSec, a medical technology security company, found that Abbott Laboratories’ St Jude Medical defibrillator or pacemakers could be remotely attacked by hackers. At about the same time, Johnson & Johnson admitted one of its insulin pumps had a  security vulnerability, which could be exploit to overdose diabetics with insulin. Since then, these Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs) have been patched. But who knows how many other such potentially fatal security problems may lie hidden within medical devices?

Also: How smart contact lenses will help keep an eye on your health

Actually, Karen M. Sandler, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy, has a good idea of how many: Too many.  As she explained, “All software has bugs and all software is vulnerable.” We know that. But did you know that, according to the Software Engineering Institute, there is one bug for every 100 lines of software? And did you know that pacemaker in your chest has about 70,000 lines of code? Scary, isn’t it?

But, as Sandler pointed out, “free and open software tends to be better and safer over time.” Unfortunately, all IMD software is proprietary.

What does it run?

Sandler, aka the cyborg lawyer, is close to this problem. You see, she has an enlarged heart from a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This mean she could suddenly die at any moment. But, thanks to a pacemaker/defibrillator, she should be OK. When she first saw one, her question to her doctor, who had implanted thousands of these, was: “What does it run?”

Also: This swallowable chip uses glowing bacteria to spot hidden illnesses

The doctor, of course, didn’t have a clue. He wasn’t even sure it had software in it. Next, the company representative came in, and he didn’t know either. But, he assured her that “these devices are very, very safe and fully tested.” To make a long story short, she found medical professionals hadn’t even thought about software issues and IMD vendors won’t talk about their software.

Don’t think anyone is checking up on IMD software outside the vendors. They’re not. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t review IMD source code, nor does it keep a repository of source code. You have to trust your device vendor, which Sandler compared to having a cat guard a fish store.

A black mystery box

Sandler’s OK with having a device in her body — after all, it’s keeping her alive. But she’s “not comfortable with the idea of having proprietary software literally screwed into her heart.”   

Also: These tiny, ultra-low power chips are helping scientists to understand your mind                                                 

Think about it. How would you feel about having a black mystery box in you? I know I’d hate it.

As Sandler explained, these medical “devices are the worst of both worlds. They have closed and proprietary software on them that no one can review, and at the same time, they are broadcasting remotely without any real security.”

Sandler noted that you can’t turn off most IMD defibrillator wireless functionality. The same is true of most personal IoT devices.

Sandler explained that it’s important to have a “right to not broadcast or be connected.” She said, “One of the main points is that we cannot really consent to something we have no viable alternative to.” This is a real worry, because with a network connection with unknown security, your device is much more vulnerable to attacks.

She wants to have the opportunity to examine the code and its algorithms, but with the proprietary software used in her body, she doesn’t have it. And neither does anyone else. Also, as she pointed out, with “IoT software which talks to everything else, often unnecessarily, we are introducing even more vulnerabilities.”


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No thanks

Sandler came out about her search for IMD source code and safety in 2012 at the linux.conf.au conference. Since then, she’s always asked, “Hey, did you ever get your source code?” And the answer is: “No, she hasn’t.”

Also: This robotic arm for multitasking can be controlled with thoughts

So, for me, at least, I’ll get a IMD with proprietary software if I must. But volunteer to have an implantable device with no idea what’s going on in its software, and it could be attacked wirelessly? No thanks.

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Dacia Bigster Concept is a bigger and more stylish Duster SUV

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Most US buyers are not privy to Dacia, a Romanian car brand and Renault subsidiary, known for making affordable, reliable, and quirky vehicles like the Sandero and Duster SUV. Most recently, Renault unveiled the 5 concept electric vehicle to coincide with the brand’s ‘Renaulution’ business strategy, and it seems Dacia is along for the ride with its newest Bigster concept SUV.

“Dacia will stay Dacia, always offering a trustworthy, authentic, best value-for-money proposition to smart buyers,” said Denis Le Vot, CEO of Dacia and Lada brands.

Part of ‘Renaulution’ is a new Dacia-Lada business partnership to boost both brand’s competitiveness through shared engineering and manufacturing. “With the creation of the Dacia-Lada business unit, we’ll have everything we need to bring the brands to higher lands, with the Bigster Concept leading the way,” added Le Vot.

This new partnership will enable Dacia and Lada to scale down from eighteen body styles to eleven while moving from four to a single platform to reduce manufacturing and engineering costs without compromising rigidity and design. Dacia and Lada will use the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s all-new CMF-B modular platform, which debuted in the all-new Renault Clio in 2019.

It’s the same platform underneath Dacia’s Bigster Concept SUV, a 4.6-meter long family hauler that paves the brand’s entrant in the highly-competitive C-segment. “Dacia Bigster Concept epitomizes the evolution of the brand,” said Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, Dacia Design director. “It proves that accessible is not opposed by any means to attractiveness. At Dacia, we believe so, and this car is proof.”

Viewed from the side, the Dacia Bigster resembles a hulked-up version of the Duster. The rear profile in particular, with its rising window line and powerful haunches, is reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Montero or Pajero Sport SUV (remember, Mitsubishi is also part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance). However, the concept has “no bells and whistles, no chrome trim or imitation aluminum,” said Dacia, and the protective exterior panels are crafted from raw, recycled plastic materials.

Powering the Dacia Bigster is a combination of alternative-energy or hybrid powertrains. We’re expecting Bigster to have the same Bi-Fuel (dual petrol and LPG engine) technology as the Sandero and Duster, but an all-electric model is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile, Dacia is set to unveil Europe’s most affordable electric car, the Spring, later this year.

Dacia Bigster Concept Gallery

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Tesla Model S Convertible by Ares Design: Elon Musk will be proud

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Italian coachbuilder and automotive engineering firm Ares Design is on a roll. After unveiling its latest Land Rover Defender Spec 1.2 earlier this year, the company has come up with a Tesla Model S Convertible with two less doors and a retractable fabric roof.

“At Ares, our Co-create philosophy allows clients to work side by side with our designers and engineers to create their very own bespoke vehicle, a service that is unique to Ares,” said Dany Bahar, Co-founder and CEO of Ares Design. “This Tesla project is a superb example of this; it was a pure coachbuilding project which we very much enjoy doing and seeing the results of our uncompromising standards.”

Wow. We never thought the Tesla Model S would look this good as a convertible model, and Elon Musk should be proud. In our opinion, it’s a better project than retrofitting a gasoline engine to what is otherwise a brilliant electric car, and this project is more than chopping off the roof and calling it a day. If you know Ares, the coachbuilder has a habit of going the extra mile in all its creations, like the C8 Corvette-based S1 Project Spyder, for example.

For the Tesla Model S, Ares modified the chassis, body, aerodynamics, and interior as part of the conversion. Ares engineers got rid of the factory roof, the B-pillars, and the rear doors before installing longer front doors. Also new is the trunk, which is now big enough to stow the folding roof. It also gets new 21-inch bespoke wheels wrapped in 245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

The Model S also gets an Ares-designed carbon-fiber aero kit to smoothen the airflow when the roof is down. Meanwhile, the interior has custom rear seats, Ice White leather upholstery, and a dash of color with orange detailing.

An anonymous client privately commissions this particular Model S, but the service is available to other Model S owners for a price. Ares has yet to reveal the project’s conversion costs, but we assume it’ll cost a lot. Least to say, this convertible is one of the best reinterpretations of the Model S we’ve seen so far.

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VW Golf production ends for US – Here’s what comes next

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Volkswagen is ending production of the US-spec Golf, calling time on its iconic hatchback, though it won’t be the last of the nameplate in America. Perennially popular, the Golf has seen almost 2.5 million sales in the US since VW first launched it in the market back in 1974.

Now, though, VW’s focus is changing, and electrification is arguably the biggest motivator. Though the Golf offered an early taste of the automaker’s EV plans in the US, the e-Golf was a fairly short-lived car, and predated the new MEB all-electric platform.

Effectively sweeping up what might ordinarily be Golf sales in the US will be the fast-approaching VW ID.4. Volkswagen’s electric crossover will be North America’s first example of an MEB-based vehicle – given the ID.3 hatchback is only being offered in Europe right now – with more distinctive styling and a higher level of technology.

Still, it’s not the end of the Golf nameplate in the US. Come the fall, the new Mk 8 2022 Golf GTI and 2022 Golf R will arrive on American shores, offering a performance take on the hatchback. The 2022 Golf GTI will have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 245 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as an option.

The 2022 VW Golf R, meanwhile, will have a more powerful tune of the 2.0-liter engine. It’s expected to get 315 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, with the same choice of transmissions. 4Motion all-wheel drive will also be included as standard, with torque vectoring and a special drift mode.

Although production of the US Golf ended at its Puebla, Mexico plant last week, VW does have a backlog of vehicles to sell through. The automaker expects that the 2021 Golf cars built there will cater to remaining demand in America through to the end of this year.

Unlike in Europe, where there are multiple configurations of Golf – and where sales of the hatchback will continue – the US gets a single trim. The 2021 Golf TSI has a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It can be had either with a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic with Tiptronic, and has features like 16-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, and leatherette seating surfaces with heated front seats. It’s priced from $23,195 (plus $995 destination) for the stick-shift, or from $23,995 (plus destination) for the automatic.

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