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Mark Ward | 12:23 UK time, Thursday, 12 August 2010

Social networks as nationsOn Tech Brief today: How big is your social network, game aids jail break and the tell-tale touch screen.

• Social networks. We are all on them, all the time. But society, even an online one, is nothing without knowing how you compare to your peers. Marketing firm Flowtown has cooked up a way to see if yours is bigger than theirs by turning them into nations on a map. Facebook is the largest single landmass but it is interesting to see how Twitter, Habbo and the Empire of Google compare.

"The firm also provides commentary on trends with its humorous names -- for example, the 'Former Kingdom of MySpace', the 'Receding Glaciers of AOL and Windows Live,' the 'Rising Island of Google Buzz' and the 'Land of Defunct Social Networks'."

• For those that get engrossed in them there is nothing casual about games such as Solitaire, Desktop Tower Defense and Bejeweled. A prison guard in the Philippines has learned just how engrossing they can be, probably at the cost of his job.

"Five inmates recently escaped from a police precinct in Cagayan de Oro City, snatching up the officer's keys where he'd left them while playing a quick few levels of Plants vs. Zombies. Apparently, the convicts had no trouble getting the keys and gaining their freedom - although four of the five were recaptured shortly after."

• Touchscreen devices bring out the obsessive in all of us as we endlessly polish the screen to remove the smudges. It turns out that the mania for a smudge-free screen has an unforeseen advantage. It can stop passwords being stolen.

"While smudge attacks might sound trivial, the researchers said the threat was genuine because it was so easy to analyse the patterns with just a computer and camera. Although the experiment focused on Android handsets, the researchers said smudge attacks could be used against other touchscreen devices, including bank machines, voting devices, and PIN entry systems."

• Is nothing safe from the wily hacker? No. Not even the tyres on your car. Since 2008 wireless sensors have been mandatory on new cars in the US and security researchers have found a way to get at them and the Electronic Control Units they communicate with.

"The tire pressure monitors are notable because they're wireless, allowing attacks to be made from adjacent vehicles. The researchers used equipment costing $1,500, including radio sensors and special software, to eavesdrop on, and interfere with, two different tire pressure monitoring systems. The pressure sensors contain unique IDs, so merely eavesdropping enabled the researchers to identify and track vehicles remotely. Beyond this, they could alter and forge the readings to cause warning lights on the dashboard to turn on, or even crash the ECU completely."

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