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Mark Ward | 15:28 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010


New York crossing sign

On Tech Brief today: the information superhighway code, forgotten boffins and computers within computers.

• As a child you were taught to Stop, Look and Listen before crossing the road. As an adult, you should be taught to Stop, Think and Connect before crossing the information superhighway. So says a grand alliance of US government agencies and security firms keen to ensure people stay safe online. Elinor Mills at Cnet went along to the launch.

"In its long form, the message is stop and understand the risks; think about how your actions could impact your safety and the safety of others; and connect with others with confidence.

The campaign, said Ms Mills, has a different emphasis from earlier security initiatives.

"Engineers who used to blame end users and complain that 'you can't fix "stupid"', have come around to realizing that they can't ignore the human factor, that there is a science to changing peoples' behavior. Making security easy and understandable will have more impact on protecting the ecosystem than throwing sophisticated tools at the problem, they acknowledge."

• A couple of users who should have stopped and thought before they connected are the folks who talked about a terror plot on their mobile phones. Rebecca Boyle at PopSci found out how they were rounded up.

"The British Government Communications Headquarters, which snoops on criminal suspects and works with MI6 spies, used voice identification technology to help uncover the plot. Several of the voices were recorded along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border."

• When spies are not out and about, they are back at base secretly crafting technologies that the real world invents years later. Or, at least, that's how it was in the 1970s. Barry Collins at PCPro talked to some former spies who had a good idea long before anyone else.

"Between them James Ellis, Clifford Cocks and Malcolm Williamson invented Public Key Cryptography, a system that permits secure communications and electronic transactions without the prior exchange of a secret key. Their work was used to secure Government communications - and naturally their bosses at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) wanted to keep their discovery top secret."

• The technology was re-invented in the late 70s and led to the trio being forgotten. Until now.

"The British trio's amazing breakthrough remained under wraps until the late 1990s, when it was revealed that they had beaten the Americans to the punch. Today, their work is finally being given the recognition it deserves by the The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), who are awarding the GCHQ trio a Milestone Award, a prestigious honour that has previously been bestowed on breakthroughs such as the Bletchley Park Enigma machine and the first transatlantic TV broadcast."

• Finally, reports of innovation with a very modern tool. In this case Minecraft, an online game that revolves around its players digging for different materials and turning them into useful stuff. Alice Taylor at Wonderland works through what is possible.

"Redstone on a block produces a powered block, which can be powered on, or off. Alright! Which means logic gates. Which means things like, combination locks"

Not only that. It means the ability to build computers in the game. One player has crafted a 16-bit adding machine.

If you want to suggest links or stories for Tech Brief, you can send them to @bbctechbrief on Twitter, tag them bbctechbrief on Delicious or e-mail them to techbrief@bbc.co.uk.

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